A Backyard Peeping Tom

Eastern Box Turtles

 

Ecology In the Suburbs: Saving Nature In Your Own Backyard

The coffee was percolating early one morning when I found my husband Michael with binoculars, staring intently into the backyard. Since I stopped using pesticides and herbicides ten years ago, my backyard has become a haven for all kinds of wildlife. I wondered what Michael was staring at.

It wasn’t deer or foxes or birds that had captured his attention. Over the years, I’ve nudged Michael to appreciate the wonders of nature, and he’s become an avid turtle watcher. Ten years ago, Michael didn’t like the idea of letting our backyard go wild. He didn’t like me encouraging the moss on the northern exposure rather than struggling with grass. Now the backyard with its velvet green is the perfect place to spot turtles, making their morning journey from one wooded area to the next in search of breakfast.

Turtles live 50 years, some even up to 100. The Eastern box turtles that we’ve found in our backyard were likely around well before this neighborhood was built thirty years ago.

One box turtle is definitely not the same as another. We’ve come to recognize them by the various markings on their shells. The males have red eyes, the females brown.

This morning we saw something new. Turtles are solitary animals, and we’ve seldom seen more than one at a time. But this morning we witnessed two turtles biting and fighting.

Ultimately, one turtle lost the fight. He actually wound up flat on his back. We watched him struggle for ten minutes, unable to right himself. Venturing into the yard, we saw that it was a turtle we didn’t recognize. Pinky, the victor, was close by.  Michael righted our new visitor and was instantly in good spirits as the turtle ambled off.

He’d saved a life – as a doctor, always a good way to start the day.

While we finished our coffee, I did a little research on my cell phone.

A Smithsonian article revealed something unexpected. What we had seen was less of a turtle fight and more of a turtle tryst. Indeed, the article reported that a male will sometimes die after copulation if he flips over and can’t get right side up again.

This discovery was embarrassing to some degree. Michael and I were not simply nature lovers enjoying the wonders of backyard ecology. In creating a hospitable environment for flora and fauna, absent herbicides and pesticides, attracting bugs and groundcover for wildlife, we’d apparently become something much more insidious, maybe even sordid –

X-rated turtle watchers, spying unnoticed on a tender turtle moment.

I kept this information to myself, unsure of the implications.  Were we nature lovers – or peeping toms?

But Michael was not bothered by the revelation. After I told him what we’d been watching, what most upset his scientific soul was that we hadn’t captured it on video.

We’re still debating on a name for the new turtle he rescued.

We’re thinking, “Casanova.”

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