Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/72

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
62
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

sections it is very common, in others extremely rare. On the approach of the frost, about the middle of October, the tortoise burrows about a foot beneath the fallen leaves of the woods, or into soft, marshy ground, and there passes the winter in a torpid state. About the middle of April it digs its way upward again, and may be seen crawling slowly about, covered with caked and frozen mud.

But the most remarkable ability of the little reptile is his power to entirely withdraw himself within his shell, and then to close up the openings. Observing the approach of an enemy, he rapidly draws in his head, legs, and tail, giving expression to his

PSM V38 D072 Underside of box turtle showing closed shell.jpg
Fig. 2. Under Side, showing Closed Shell.

displeasure by a sharp hiss; then, folding up the two flaps of the lower shell until they fit accurately into the cup-shaped edge of the upper, he becomes as unopenable as an oyster. In most cases the fit of the carapace and plastron is so perfect that it would be difficult to insert the head of a pin into any crack, and the muscles are so powerful as to render it well-nigh impossible to force an opening. Yet the jaguar of South America has been seen to tear open the shells of similarly protected tortoises. We may feel assured that the protection is a needed one, for it is very rare to find an old box tortoise whose shell does not show marks of rough usage.

There is a well-grounded popular belief that our tortoise lives to a vast age, and numerous cases of turtles bearing dates over a century old have been cited. There was, until 1886, in the neighborhood of the writer's home in New Jersey, an old tortoise which had been marked by Mr. Cyrus Durand, the inventor of the geometric lathe It bore the inscription "C. D. 1838," clearly cut with a graver, on its under shell. As the tortoise had been observed from year to year since the time of its marking by the most trustworthy witnesses, there can be no doubt that the date was gen-