Dateline – July 27, 2021 – Farmers Branch, Texas

I like to tell the story of Texas box turtles when ever I get a chance. And there’s nothing like coming across one while out on a hike, to remind me to make mention. So, what is the story of box turtles in Texas? In a nutshell, we don’t have as many of them as we used to.

When I was a boy, I used to come across box turtles in the woods near our house in Lewisville with some regularity. There were a few months during my tweens when I encountered these turtles so often that I soon gave into the temptation to capture some of them and bring them home with me. Back at the house I would turn them loose, and before long I had a nice mix of both Three-toed Box Turtles and Ornate Box Turtles roaming the confines of our fenced backyard.

As a consequence, over the next several years I had the opportunity to observe many interesting box turtle behaviors. Perhaps one of the most notable was set up spilled birdseed lying on the ground under our bird feeder. Dozens of House Sparrows would visit our yard to gorge on the fallen seeds. Then one day I noticed a hungry turtle emerge from under landscaping, and persistently follow several sparrows around, desperately trying to get close enough to catch one. On many ocassions the ambitious turtle reached out and snapped his jaws at a bird, but they always managed to stay just out of reach. The House Sparrows could hop away casually, never really having to take the threat posed by the turtle too seriously.

Three-toed Box Turtle

Another time, I was pleased to find at least one half-dollar-sized juvenile box turtle added to the mix. Evidently, the other turtles were more successful with some other activities than they had been with hunting sparrows.

In the mid to late 1980s something happened to the Box Turtle population in Texas. By the early 1990s biologist began reporting that box turtle populations all across Texas had crashed. I missed the event myself, because I had become busy with school and then work. But when I got back out in the field in the mid-2000s, it quickly became apparent that something had indeed changed. In those years, it was a rare occasion to stumble across a Box Turtle anywhere I went in the DFW metroplex.

I find Box Turtles with more regularity these days. I’m no longer surprised to happen across one whenever I am hiking in an appropriate habitat. This may count as anecdotal evidence that box turtle numbers have rebounded to some degree in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, but there is no way to be certain without a scientific study.

Below are pictures of my latest box turtle encounter. I came across this big fellow on the trail in the Trinity River bottoms near Farmer Branch. This Three-toed Box Turtle impressed me as one of the larger ones I have ever come upon. In both shell diameter and dome this turtle seemed slightly extraordinary. He must have been roaming these woods for years—a real old timer.

Box turtle in the river bottoms
Notice the dome of the shell…
…and the diameter as compared to a size 12 boot

Just down the trail from the turtle I encountered this Eastern Cottontail. The rabbit seemed to be resting and catching his breath, almost like he was overconfident about something. Watching from up above was a mischievous American Crow. His commentaries came in the form of caw-caws. The entire situation felt very fable-esque.

Eastern Cottontail
American Crow

This was a fun hike. The summer heat made it challenging, but the shade provided by the dense tree canopy provided some relief. The environs in this part of the Trinity River bottoms are beautiful. The vegetation here is lush and thick, and some of the sights here are absolutely stunning. Have a look at the examples below…

On the way out we can across this rather large Barn Spider on his huge, sticky web which was inconveniently strung across the trail at face-high level. He had just captured and secured a Superb Green Cicada, ending this noisy insect’s buzzing for good. This spider will eat well for days to come!