The Florida box turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri or T. bauri) is the southernmost form or subspecies of the T. carolina or eastern/common box turtles in the United States. They occur in most of the peninsula of Florida including the Florida Keys and many barrier islands along both coasts. Their range just barely extends into South Georgia near Jacksonville, FL. This small species (up to 7.4 in, typically 5 - 6 in) is inhabitant of tropical hammocks, swales, pine flatwoods, and marshes in Florida. They are omnivorous eating both small prey (carrion, insects and other invertebrates, as well as fruits, berries, and seeds). The Florida box turtle, on Sanibel, was referred to as “The Jewel of Sanibel” by Sanibel naturalist and nature writer George Campbell in the 1980’s because of its beautiful yellow streaks on its black carapace that it uses to camouflage itself in the vegetation. They are called box turtles because of their plastral hinge that allows them to close their shell entirely, like a box, to prevent predators from eating soft tissue (limbs, head, tail).
These long-lived animals usually live 50-70 years in good conditions (low predation, good habitat), but can live longer than a century. Their primary sustainability strategy is their high survivability after reaching adulthood and their ability to lay eggs (although few eggs) into a very old age. Box turtles home ranges have been shown to be relatively small with most instances from telemetry studies being between 0.5 -7.0 acres.
The threats to their survival in Florida are most notably land development of natural habitats for housing developments and businesses, as well as collection for the national and international pet trade. Sanibel does not have much development since 2/3 of the island is conservation land and the other 1/3 is mostly built up already, but road mortality is still an issue in high traffic areas due to their habit of crossing roads. The Florida box turtle’s biggest conservation threat on Sanibel is the illegal collection for the national and international pet trade. All turtles are protected on Sanibel due to a city ordinance that carries a $5000 fine per turtle, but high demand has affected Sanibel populations. All turtles on Sanibel are being researched and monitored in some way and turtles are marked with notching and/or microchips for identification purposes and as a deterrence for collecting.
The SCCF Florida Box Turtle Project began in 2002 with turtles being measured and marked on Sanibel and Captiva Islands. They are the perfect species for long-term studies due their long lives and relatively mall home ranges. Increased effort over the years with this research has resulted in valuable data sets relating to their habitats, population status, and longevity. Recent telemetry efforts are showing that their home ranges on Sanibel do not fall into the “average” category. The recent issues in Florida with turtle trafficking rings has increased our efforts with this species greatly, such as monitoring the released turtles from a major confiscation and continued work with the resident population, and outside assistance is needed.
If you are interested in financially helping with this project, please let us know. We are looking for sponsors to help with the costs of microchips, radio transmitters, and telemetry technicians. You can also adopt a box turtle which enables you to permanently name a box turtle that will be tracked for 300 days and will be permanently identifiable. If you see a box turtle on Sanibel or Captiva, please try to take a picture and notify us at 239-472-3984 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.