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Tuesday, October 14, 2014
@ AnimalsReptiles & AmphibiansMountain Area Turtles


Physically turtles have changed very little since their origin millions of years ago. Unlike their swifter “cousins”, the snakes and lizards, the turtle’s slow ambling gait draws attention from humans and animals alike.

Generally speaking, aquatic and terrestrial turtles are equipped with a bony shell that is part of the skeleton on top and on the underside, joined at the sides. Their skin is covered with scales and horny plates. Mouthparts consist of a sharp edged jawbone without individual teeth. Turtles are egg-layers; the females use their claws to dig a hole and deposit leathery eggs that in 60 to 100 days, will produce a quarter size hatchling whose main objective is to stay hidden until its larger size make it less vulnerable to predators.

There are several different varieties of box turtles found in the United States.  The Eastern Box Turtle is the species native to the southern Appalachian mountains.

The high-domed shell is the most prominent feature of the box turtle.  Closer examination reveals that the lower shell, called the plastron, is hinged, enabling the shell to be closed much like a box.  Both the upper shell, called the carapace, and the plastron, are typically dark brown to black in color with many varying streaks, spots, and lines of yellow and orange.  Older specimens often have very smooth and worn shells with little coloration.  The head, neck, and legs of the box turtle are also brightly colored with yellow and orange colored eyes while the eyes of the females are usually dark red or brown.  Male box turtles also have a slight depression in the middle of their lower shells while that of a female’s is flat.  Overall length of most adult box turtles is about five to six inches.

The Common Snapping Turtle is a species of turtles native to western North Carolina and one of the most common.  Due to its large size, it is often confused with the Alligator Snapping Turtle, a species found primarily in the Mississippi River drainage system and not in our mountain region.

The Common Snapping Turtle has a brownish or blackish upper shell (carapace) and a much smaller and lighter in color lower shell (plastron).  The head is quite large and the neck, when extended, is very long.  The tail of the snapping turtle is also quite long, especially in young individuals and may exceed the length of the turtle’s upper shell.  There is a row of bony protruding plates along the upper edge of the snapper’s tail and a series of sawtooth-like projections along the rear margin of the upper shell.  The feet are webbed.  Common Snapping Turtles can grow to immense proportions as adults, with some individuals having upper shell lengths of as much as 17 to 18 inches, although most adult specimens encountered will average a shell length of around 10 to 12 inches.  Wild adults usually weigh as much as 80 pounds or more.


~ WNC Nature Center ~ 75 Gashes Creek Road ~ Asheville ~ NC 28805 ~
Phone (828) 259-8080


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