Nature’s most intelligent reptile, the turtle, is the mascot for a smart new program at Ohio State Parks that encourages park visitors to "Hike for Health." The Eastern box turtle does a lot of hiking through the woods, foraging for food and water. This healthy lifestyle really pays off. It’s not unusual for a box turtle to live for 40 years or more, and a few have been reported to be over 100 years old!
Unlike other Ohio turtles that are found in or near the water, the box turtle is primarily terrestrial and prefers dry woodlands. Box turtles use their powerful legs to bury themselves in the soil to cool off in the heat of summer, hibernate during the winter, and make a safe nest for their fertilized eggs. Box turtles are omnivorous and eat a well-balanced diet including such tasty morsels as insect larvae and small toads, as well as berries and various plants. They can also eat wild mushrooms, many of which are poisonous to humans, without ill effect. The splotchy yellow or orange dots or stripes on the box turtle’s brown or black shell make it easy to distinguish from other species. The color and patterns of the markings vary widely among individual box turtles, though, making it easy to identify a particular turtle.
Turtles are born with their shells, which are a major part of their skeletal structure. In fact, the turtle’s backbone is fused to the inside of the top of its shell, the carapace. The bottom plate, or plastron, of the box turtle’s shell is hinged, giving box turtles the unique ability to completely enclose their head and limbs within their shell when threatened by predators. Adult box turtles have little to fear from any creature except humans. Young turtles and turtle eggs are vulnerable to mammal predators, though, and they are a particular favorite of hungry skunks.
Box turtles are easy to spot on or along roadways where they may pause to sun themselves. Consequently, they often fall prey to passing automobiles or families in search of a souvenir pet. If you see a turtle in your Ohio State Park travels, please let it be—or kindly move it to the side of the road. Turtles have an important job to do in the woodland ecosystem, and they need a fighting chance to propagate more turtles. Besides, with their legendary longevity, taking a turtle out of the park would be like removing a living monument.
--Lynn Boydelatour, Interpretive Services Section Manager
Don’t be alarmed if you encounter a giant box turtle when you’re out on one of our state park trails! "Tuffey Turtle" is one tough hiker who knows the health benefits of incorporating a moderate level of physical activity into one’s daily lifestyle. Like the tortoise in Aesop’s classic fable of the race between the tortoise and the hare, Tuffey paces himself to win the race for a long and healthy life. He works a little hiking into his schedule most every day of the week. Tuffey may not be fast on his feet, but he’s got a great heart—literally. Tuffey reminds hikers on the trail that just half an hour of moderate exercise, like hiking, can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease. Heart disease is the number one health threat for adults in the U.S.
Tuffey brings his message to "Hike For Health" through a partnership between the Ohio Department of Health and the ODNR Division of Parks and Recreation. Tuffey invites the entire family to discover a whole new world to explore beyond the lawn chair. Youngsters who accompany an adult on a Hike for Health with a park officer or naturalist earn a Hike for Health button featuring Tuffey, himself!