Hero on a half shell

August 04, 2008|By TIM ROWLAND

So it would seem that, after decades if not centuries of relative obscurity, the humble box turtle is moving to seize the day and dominate the headlines as never before.

First came the announcement from the national Humane Society (which has no connection to the local Humane Society that rescues dogs and cats) that it would build a $130,000 turtle subway under a county highway.

And now this: A box turtle is being called a hero after leading investigators to a marijuana patch in Rock Creek Park.

The turtle, known as Turtle 72, had been affixed with a radio transmitter by scientists studying the movement of turtles (yeah, well, after figuring out the Antikythera Mechanism, what's left?) near the Maryland/D.C. border.


The turtle's handler would pay her infrequent visits in the 1,754-acre park -- maybe to check the condition of the transmitter, maybe to catch up on old times, the news story didn't say -- and he just so happened to track her down on July 14 as she stood, as fate would have it, in a small marijuana patch.

Naturally, authorities were notified, and after some surveillance, they caught the "farmer," a kid from Chevy Chase whose previous claim to fame had been as drummer in a winning Montgomery County Battle of the Bands group.

Aside from ridding the region of 10 highly dangerous marijuana plants, two things stand out. First, what are the odds? Poor kid. No way should the stars align to the point that 1. A researcher duct tapes a radio transmitter onto the shell of an Eastern box turtle and, 2. Of all the hundreds of acres in the park the turtle would happen to visit a marijuana patch the size of a desk top and, 3. On the very day, hour and minute that the turtle was standing in the tall grass, the researcher would happen to burst out of the bush to take her pulse?

I've heard of bad luck before, but this is clearly the most disastrous chance occurrence since hanging chad. And if you're a drug trafficker, you would like to think that you had been foiled by some Colomboesque, crime fighting genius, not a plodding reptile with a brain the size of a thumb tack.

But the second standout revelation is even more disturbing: Does this mean Eastern box turtles are doing weed? Those sly devils. Maybe the "chance" wandering to the M. patch wasn't so random after all. So this is their diet. Berries, grubs and a couple of blunts the size of a hot-dog bun.

No wonder so many of them are getting smashed on the highways. They're all strung out on tree. "Oh, wow man, like here comes a car. And like, dude, it's coming real fast. But I still got lots of time to ..." CRUNCH.

They say a turtle carries his home on his back; but no one mentioned that it's a crack house. Maybe the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were normal before becoming full-blown coke freaks.

Of course, we could turn this knowledge to our advantage. They're having trouble eradicating opium poppies in Afghanistan? Turn the box turtles loose. And pretty soon they'll be stopping your car at the border and going through the trunk with a drug-sniffing turtle.

Beth says she saw a turtle in a wild blackberry patch once, his face smeared with purple, staring up at the canes waiting for another to drop. Now we know that the deal was -- always hungry with no true concept of time. If that isn't the definition of a turtle burnout, I don't know what is.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on

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