Wood turtles are native to North America. They can be found from Nova Scotia to Virginia. In the past, they lived further South, as the North was covered in glaciation. They live in shallow streams near large rivers, in forests and grasslands. They are capable of surviving on both land and in water, but they are rarely found further than a few hundred yards from a water source. However, their dependence on water varies from region to region. They are more aquatic in the West and more terrestrial in the East. Also, their populations are many times denser in the South than in the North.
Wood turtles do not provide parental care for their offspring outside of building their nest. The site selected for the nest is highly important and often determines the young turtles’ chance of survival. Females prefer to dig their nests in warm soil near water. The average nest is about four inches wide and three inches deep. She covers the nest with leaves or dirt to hide it from predators. In contrast to other turtles, the sex of the offspring is not determined by the temperature of their nest but by genetics.
The behavior of wood turtles varies based on the season. In the summer and winter, they have a lowered metabolic rate and are mostly inactive. During the spring, they are diurnal. They forage in the hours around dawn and dusk and spend the day basking in the sun.
They are omnivorous and find food on land and in the water equally as well. They eat beetles, slugs, millipedes, and earthworms. They also enjoy grasses, mosses, algae, and even certain fungi. In order to lure earthworms to the surface, wood turtles have been observed rhythmically stomping their feet to imitate rain.
Wood turtles travel far and quickly (for a turtle). They are capable of moving over land at speeds of 0.2 miles per hour. In one day, a turtle might walk about 350 feet. They have great homing abilities and an acute sense of direction. Even when displaced several miles from their home, wood turtles are able to return to their original location within a matter of weeks.
Although more studies are needed to determine wood turtle population numbers, they are classified as Endangered. Habitat destruction and predation from cats, foxes, otters, raccoons, and snapping turtles are their biggest threats. Fortunately, programs in both Canada and the United States are dedicated to conserving this turtle species.
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