Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fierce Turtle

Click to enlarge
My neighbor Mark Bower shared this picture with me from his morning ramble in Bull Creek valley.  Three-toed box turtles generally refuse to pose for me, preferring to clam up.  This turtle apparently had been reading Wikipedia which says that "They can be shy about being watched while eating, and may stop and stare back motionless if this happens."

If you enlarge this picture, you can see that the Three-toed Box Turtle is halfway through eating a millipede, probably Apheloria virginiensis.  While I think of them as eating our strawberries when I was a kid, they actually are omnivorous and are known to eat green vegetables, slugs, insects, earthworms, and even quail eggs on occasion.  All these have in common is their slow speed.  There is even a suspicion that they can eat poisonous mushrooms and subsequently poison what ever tries to eat them.

Tom Johnson's book* answered a question I have always had.  How do two slow moving reptiles manage to mate to produce their eggs at the right time of year?  It turns out that a female box turtle can carry her fertilized eggs for up to 4 years before depositing them underground.

We maybe witnessing an interesting reversal of the normal food chain in this picture.  According to Wikipedia this millipede, secretes cyanide as a defense mechanism.  It can be very irritating if you handle one and then rub your eyes.  This could mean that the turtle may be the next link down the food chain, returning to the soil in death.  On the other hand, that may be why it has paused - the whole event may be leaving a bad taste in its mouth.
Millipede defense

Millipedes are detritivores, eating only dead plant material.  They are slow moving and have two pairs of legs from each body segment.  Their other defense is curling up in a tight ball with only their leathery back exposed.

Centipedes are easily distinguished from millipedes.  In addition to having only one pair of legs on each body segment, they move much faster than a millipede.  They sport a pair of venomous claws in front which can deliver a painful and potentially severe bite to humans.  They are primarily predatory and eat plant material only when nothing else is available.

Francis Skalicky has more information on box turtles and why they don't make good pets in today's News-Leader article.

Past millipede blogs on millipede in general and millipede mass migrations into houses

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed following the whole entry, I always thought one of the main things to count when you write a blog is learning how to complement the ideas with images, that's exploiting at the maximum the possibilities of a ciber-space! Good work on this entry!