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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/71

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HABITS OF THE BOX TORTOISE.

the attainment of full growth the shell is corrugated by numerous concentric ridges. As a new one is formed every year, the age of the tortoise may be obtained by counting these ridges, provided it be not full grown; for in old age the shell becomes smooth and polished. Some are of a brownish horn color streaked with rich yellow, others are black covered with oval yellow spots. The color of the legs and head varies from dark brown to bright yellow. Frequently the old males have blood-red eyes, which give them a ferocious appearance.

The box tortoise is most commonly to be met with in shady places, near the borders of woods; or near damp or marshy ground, where worms and insects abound. The tortoise has quite an aversion for wet places, and, although it is a fairly good swimmer, and can remain for over twelve hours beneath the surface without once coming out to breathe, it is rarely to be found in the water. In May and early summer it deserts the shade of the woods where it has spent the winter, and moves into the open meadows, where the fresh young grass is becoming thick and high, myriads of insects are waking into life, and the wild strawberries are beginning to redden. After the pastures are mowed in July the tortoises scatter, some remaining in the meadows, others taking again to the woods. For this reason the animal is much more, rarely met with in August than in June.

Owing to the extreme slowness and deliberation of all its movements, it seems wonderful that it can obtain enough to eat. Often it will hesitate for a full minute, on finding an insect, before summoning up enough resolution to seize it. The neck is slowly stretched forward, the jaws open and close upon the victim, and the head is immediately snapped back as though frightened at what it had done. Deglutition is accomplished by a series of gulping movements, which often cause a squealing sound. Its food consists of crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars, worms, and, in fact, almost any luckless insect which it may find. It is very partial to wild strawberries, tomatoes, and many fungi. There can be no doubt that it greatly aids the farmer by destroying the larvæ of injurious insects. In seeking its food the tortoise wanders about in the most zigzag courses imaginable. A whole day's wanderings, of over half a mile, may not cover more than a quarter of an acre. Our little friend rarely wanders far from the place of his birth. In the month of May, 1880, a dozen tortoises found in a three-acre pasture were marked by the writer. Every year they return to the same meadow, so that in 1889 eight of them were identified. The most erratic individual was found half a mile from the meadow, six years after being marked. The tortoise is very generally distributed over the United States east of the Mississippi, but its local distribution is variable. In some