Eastern box turtles are so set in their (finicky) ways that when people come along to change their environment, they tend to die off rather than adapt much.
For instance, if someone turns one of these turtles into a pet and then decides to release the creature back into the wild, the turtle must be put back in the same spot.
Otherwise, says Ioa Byrne, a staff member at the , the turtle "will spend the rest of its life looking for home, and the turtle is, biologically speaking, dead. It will not lay eggs until it finds its home.
"People don't know these things," she continues. "This is why people have to enjoy wildlife—but enjoy it where you see it and leave it alone."
Box turtles (which are really tortoises), lay three to 15 eggs at a time, "most of which get eaten by raccoons," Byrne said.
Sheldon, also known as "Shelly," is an eastern box turtle who's been at the nature center for at least a dozen years. In the wild, the species tends to live to be 35 years old or so, but in captivity, where life is easier and dangers are fewer, there are reports of 100-year-old eastern box turtles.
Whatever its egg-laying scruples, the species is not a finicky eater. The eastern box turtle will dine on wild strawberries, grapes and leafy vegetation, but it isn't adverse to slugs, earthworms and mushrooms, including some that are poisonous to human beings.
An eastern box turtle will wolf down insects and dead creatures, as well. But as it ages, the turtle does tend to eat mostly vegetation.
Turtles, of course, bring their homes with them, but the real estate they prefer to locate in consists of moist, forested land, wet meadows, floodplains and pastures. During the hot summer season, they vacation in swampy areas. If you see one, it's usually early in the day or after rain.
To keep safe from preditors, box turtles will sleep in holes they dig, or under rocks or fallen trees.
Eastern box turtles can be found as far north as Maine, as far south as the Florida Keys and as far west as Michigan. Their size ranges from 4 to 8 1/2 inches.
Indians in New York state enjoyed eating box turtle meat, and they used the shells for ceremonial rattles. They also buried box turtles with their dead.
Now that Shelly's been a captive of people for so long, he's not nearly as shy as a box turtle in the wild would be, and so he will stretch his neck way out, much farther than a prudent eastern box turtle in the wild, said Lynn Hamlen, executive director of the Darien Nature Center, who held Sheldon for his Darien Patch picture.
The Darien Nature Center reopens on Tuesday, Jan. 3. The nature center is normally open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., weekdays, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.
Editor's note: The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has more information on eastern box turtles on its website.