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Displaced Box Turtles Need a Helping Hand

No messing with worms and insects; this trio eats a five-star diet

Marley Connor presents a turtle to Ruby and Lane Zegowitz. <<photo by Michelle Steel>>

Cinco, Patches and Tripod would be homeless were it not for Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary in Lothian.
    Instead, the three female Eastern box turtles live in five-star-hotel style with amenities including rich soil for digging, logs for climbing, flowing ferns for frolicking, May apples, mushrooms and blueberry bushes for foraging and a wading pond for cooling off.
    The girls, as they’re called by staff and volunteers, are forest-dwellers, so much of their 16-by-five-foot enclosure is shaded, with sparse sunny spots.
    “Visitors joke about living in such a nice place,” says Jug Bay naturalist Lindsay Hollister.
    Wild box turtles live within a home range of two to 25 acres. Remove a turtle from its home range, and it’s nearly impossible for it to return home without taking high risks like crossing busy roads. Eastern box turtle numbers are dwindling, in part because people move them to a new place outside of their home range or take them home as pets.
    Jug Bay’s turtles are rescued Marylanders. Their home range is unknown, so they can’t be released back into the wild.
    Their oasis doubles as an outdoor live exhibit that helps people understand why the box turtle population is declining and what can be done to reverse the trend. Volunteers work up close and personal with a threatened species, and visitors catch a rare glimpse into a day in the life of box turtles.
    Herpetologist Sandy Barnett devised the custom quarters and, in 2006, worked two days with volunteers from the Mid-Atlantic Turtle and Tortoise Society to build it.
    Barnett also planned the turtles’ five-star diet.
    Three to four times a week, the trio is fed an elaborate mix of one scoop of dry turtle food, 14 grams of lettuce, 16 grams of squash or carrots and 10 grams of apple, all weighed on a food scale, then processed in a mini-blender. The blended food is topped with either Repti-Calcium or Herbtivite, a multivitamin for reptiles.
    The finishing touch is a garnish of mango — the turtles’ all-time favorite fruit — strategically placed at the top of the food tower to entice them to eat.
    The food is divided into three, as each turtle gets her own plate.
    “We only give them people-grade food,” Hollister said. “If it’s something you won’t eat, then we don’t give it to the girls.”
    In other words, wilted lettuce and rotten apples don’t make the cut.
    The turtles’ diet is closely monitored and charted on the refrigerator in Jug Bay’s lab, where their food is prepared. After the girls have finished their meals, how much they ate is recorded.
    Feeding the turtles and charting their diet, caretaker volunteers help track valuable data on Eastern box turtles’ behavior.
    Through feeding these three mouths is a demanding job that needs your help. As a volunteer, you don’t have to mess with worms and insects; the turtles find those on their own turf.
    Jug Bay is open Wed thru Sun, 9am to 5pm and Fri, 7am to sunset. Turtle caretaking volunteers, families included, apply at 410-741-9330; www.jugbay.org.

Need to stop a turtle race? The Maryland Dept of Natural Resources will kindly provide you a list of turtles that are illegal to collect. Basically all of them! So, if you are attempting to stop a private or government sponsored turtle race, simply get the list, inform the sponsors that DNR has been alerted and that anyone possessing wild turtles at the race may be fined. Laws to protect wildlife and natural areas only work if we use them. Thankfully AACo Rec and Parks stopped holding these races about 10 years ago.