Turtle love gets a little help

July 22, 1999|By DENNIS SHAW

In spite of my better judgment, I've become a matchmaker.

I swore I'd never do anything of the sort, but I really, really wanted to see this particular boy and girl get together and start a family.

[cont. from lifestyle]

They've both been roaming around, looking for Mr. and Mrs. Right, but it seemed to me they weren't having much luck. At the very least, they certainly were moving slowly. So I stuck my nose into their business.

These two winging singles are Eastern box turtles that live on my 12-acre property. I'd seen one of them hanging around the house, while the other cruised the woods up near the road.


At the rate they were moving, I didn't see how they possibly could get together. I read that they can't smell each other or call to each other, so they just have to trust Lady Luck that their paths will cross. But the paths of these two were so far apart that I was pessimistic.

I also felt a bit guilty, remembering Slowpoke. He was a box turtle that I caught when I was a kid and kept as a pet. I was convinced he was happy, eating dog food and living in a box. But of course, he never found a mate, and eventually he died, long before his life expectancy of 50 years, I'm sure.

Since then, I'd read how thousands and thousands of box turtles have been captured and shipped overseas as pets. And as our human population has expanded, we've been taking more and more habitat away from box turtles and other creatures.

I'm always very careful when I mow my lawn to make sure there's no turtle in my path. And, on occasion, have even stopped while driving to help a turtle in the road. After checking to make sure that I wouldn't be creating a traffic hazard, I'd pull over and turn on my flashers. Then I'd get out and move the turtle off the road, in dense cover, and set him down facing in the direction he already was heading.

So I was very distressed one day last month when I went to my mailbox and found a small box turtle on the road, crushed to death by a passing vehicle. I felt especially bad because I so seldom see small box turtles, and I worry that not many of them are reproducing successfully.

I got very nervous two days later, when I found my wandering would-be Romeo near the same spot, dangerously close to the roadway. That was when I vowed to act.

I'd already determined that this turtle was male, by noting the shape of the undershell, which is much more concave on the male. And I knew the one by my house was female. So I picked up this one and carried him roughly 300 feet to be near the house. I set him down, gave him a saucer of water, wished him luck and hoped he'd soon bump into Juliet, whom I had recently seen nearby. I just hope they're not as fussy as we humans are when picking partners. I'd be most upset if Juliet indicated something like, "Well, he's just not my type."

I haven't seen either one of the turtles since. I hope they're holed up in some shady area. And I hope in future years to hear the pitter-patter of little turtle feet around my house.

I'd like to think that my one attempt as a matchmaker has been a success.

Dennis Shaw is a former Herald-Mail editor. Write him at P.O. Box 276, Clear Spring, Md. 21722, or call 301-842-3863.

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