Humphrey, an Eastern Box Turtle who lives in the grassy courtyard at The Watershed Center, emerged this week after five months of winter hibernation and is celebrating spring by sunbathing.
Watershed Educator Yesenia Feliciano said he appears healthy and is still a little too groggy to be hungry. She’s enticing him with his favorites: strawberries and mealworms.
Humphrey went into hibernation in late October, typically around the time of the first killing frost. In the wild, these turtles will travel into woodlands and dig under soft soil, fallen leaves, or mud to hibernate. As temperatures grow colder, the box turtle will create a deeper hole underground, digging down as far as two feet.
They emerge in late March and early April once the temperatures warm up to 65-70 degrees. In May and June, they begin mating and females will travel to find a good spot to lay their eggs. This often leads the turtles to cross busy roads, so drivers please be aware!
Eastern box turtles are terrestrial animals and are found near ponds, fields, and forests all over the state. They are considered a “species of concern” due to habitat loss in densely-populated New Jersey. The Watershed must apply for an endangered species permit each year from the state Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) after demonstrating that Humphrey is cared for properly and given the correct diet, habitat, and lighting.
They may hang out near streams to bathe and drink water, but they are poor swimmers with claw-shaped feet that are better suited to burrowing.
As a male, Humphrey has distinctive red eyes and individual patterns on his dome-shaped shell, divided into the upper carapace and underbelly’s plastron, which is dark brown and hinged. When threatened, Humphrey and other box turtles withdraw all of their limbs inside of their strong shell to avoid being eaten by predators.
Humphrey is estimated to be about 8-to-10 years old. He was in captivity for years before being donated to the Watershed. Eastern box turtles reach maturity at 10-to-20 years old and can live to be more than 100-years-old.
The coloration of Eastern box turtles may vary from olive-browns in the larger females to oranges, yellows, and reds. Most have some yellow markings on their dark feet and faces.
Humphrey and other Eastern box turtles, which are omnivores, in the wild consume insects, snails, worms, fish, and local plants and vegetation. At the Watershed, he is fed leafy greens such as kale, bok choy, and zucchini. He is also fed a small portion of fruit, such as raspberries and other berries, and some protein including freeze-dried shrimp, mealworms, and crickets.
Box turtles are essential to their habitat, they are a food source for predators, and their burrows provide a habit for other animals as well.
Feel free to watch a Facebook Live from June 10, 2020, with Watershed Educator Samantha Bernstein, and learn more about Humphrey.