Box turtles are on the move again. They are cute and fascinating. They may even appear to need protection from whizzing automobiles.
But a Missouri turtle expert says they're safer in the wild than in captivity.
"Box turtles are well adapted to the wild, where they have access to a wide variety of plant and animal foods," state herpetologist Jeff Briggler said. "Those foods not only provide nourishment, they help turtles fight off diseases and parasites. When you take a turtle out of its natural environment, you expose it to all sorts of dangers."
Box turtles can live more than 50 years. In that time, they may never leave their home areas of five or 10 acres. The exception is springtime, when box turtles travel to find mates and establish new home ranges.
They are frequently seen crossing roads, a dangerous adventure for creatures unable to react quickly to approaching vehicles.
Living out their lives in such small home areas allows turtles to develop an intimate familiarity with the places they need to find food and shelter.
Each year, however, many turtles' well-ordered lives are thrown into disarray by well-meaning people who bring them home and keep them in boxes, backyards and basements - usually to the detriment of the animals.
Briggler said it can be difficult for an inexperienced person to meet turtles' nutritional needs.
Hand-feeding insects and fruit and poor housing conditions cannot come close to the variety of their natural diet, natural sunlight and shelters that exist in the wild.
It is OK, he said, to keep a turtle for a few weeks, as long as you return it to the area where you found it.
If you want to help turtles, you can carry those you see trying to cross roads to the side they are trying to reach. Place them well clear of the pavement.
"Box turtles are really cool. I completely understand why people want to keep them," Briggler said, "but it's not the thing to do if you really care about them. Turtles belong in the wild."