The Natural History of Box Turtles (Terrapene carolina) in a Suburban Environment

Sarah Budischak, Joy Hester, and Michael E. Dorcas


Many reptile species are experiencing global population declines due to anthropogenic causes (Gibbons et al., 2000). Box turtles (Terrapene carolina) are no exception. Long term studies have documented significant population size and density declines (Stickel 1978, Schwartz and Schwartz 1974). The effects of urbanization, namely pollution, habitat fragmentation, increased traffic, introduced species, collection for the pet trade, and increased spread of disease have been linked to the box turtle declines (Belzer and Steisslinger 1999). Although box turtles commonly inhabit urban environments, the effects of urbanization on box turtle natural history are relatively unknown.

In 1999 the Davidson College Herpetology lab began a long-term mark-and-release box turtle monitoring program in Davidson, NC. Unlike previous research, our study area encompasses both urban and non-developed habitats, allowing us to examine some of the effects of urbanization on box turtle natural history. The Herpetology laboratory encourages community involvement in collection both as a conservation outreach program and to extend the sampling location into suburban neighborhoods (Hester et al. in prep). Our project involves using the data collected over the past 6 years to describe the natural history of Davidson box turtles and examine the possible effects of urbanization on box turtle populations.



We will use statistical analyses to compare the distributions of characteristics including weight, carapace length, age, and conditionby sex and by location (developed or non-developed). We will also examine the seasonal variation in capture by sex and the relative rates of injuries between turtles found on developed and non-developed lands. Additionally, we plan to estimate the size of the Davidson box turtle population using recapture rate data.