The Erudite Chelonian

A collection of quotes about turtles.  Why?  Because I like them.

Female Box Turtle--Close Profile

A female box turtle in her habitat in Georgia.

“Most people have a vague feeling that no reptiles except turtles are to be trusted, and they make no effort to find out anything about them or even to learn what they are.”

-Archie Carr, from the essay “The Cold-Blooded Fraternity”, collected in his book A Naturalist in Florida.

“As I held the formless object in my hand and meditated on it, half ready to admit that I had never seen it move and never would, the front lobe of the plastron lowered slightly.  This was an unmistakable symptom of curiosity, meaning not merely that the creature was alive but that he fermented with an extroversion uncommon in his kind.  I set him aside and watched.  Shortly, a scarred beak appeared, and then the head slowly emerged and rose as the long neck stretched, and my gaze was met by that of a pair of clear amber eyes, bright and unperturbed and unclouded by any memory of past tragedy or fear of tragedy to come.

When the tortoise had seen enough of me he turned his head toward the palm-set horizon and blinked a while and then began to walk, good legs alternating with footless stubs to trundle the incredible body along in a fittingly lopsided gait.  A turtle crudely carved from a lightwood knot and perversely come animate, he plodded out across the prairie, impelled toward who knows what goal and destiny by hope from what hidden spring.”

-Archie Carr, from the essay “Sticky Heels”, collected in his book A Naturalist in Florida.

Big Mama Snapper-Detail

Detail of a 22″x30″ drawing of a large female snapping turtle, by yours truly.

“The Cenozoic came, and with it progressive drought, and the turtles joined the great hegira of swamp and forest animals to steppe and prairie, and watched again as mammals rose to heights of evolutionary frenzy reminiscent of the dinosaurs in their day, and swept across the grasslands in an endless cavalcade of restless, warm-blooded types.  Turtles went with them, as tortoises now, with high shells and columnar, elephantine feet, but always making as few compromises as possible with the new environment, for by now their architecture and their philosophy had been proved by the eons; and there is no wonder that they just kept on watching as Eohippus begat Man o’ War and a mob of irresponsible and shifty-eyed little shrews swarmed down out of the trees to chip at stones, and fidget around fires, and build atom bombs.

-Archie Carr, from the Introduction to his Handbook of Turtles

“Because of its large size and forbidding appearance the snapper has gained a reputation for rapacity that is probably not altogether warranted.”

-Archie Carr, from the entry about snapping turtles in his Handbook of Turtles

Marker pen sketch of an Indochinese Box Turtle

Marker pen sketch of an Indochinese Box Turtle by yours truly.

“There is no use in suppressing the comment that a pair of copulating box turtles is ludicrous to behold.”

-Archie Carr, from the entry about box turtles in his Handbook of Turtles

“There exists a curious lot of witless or psychopathic characters who love to run over box turtles on the road to hear them pop, and there is probably nothing much that can be done about these people except to hope that they skid.”

-Archie Carr, from the entry about box turtles in his Handbook of Turtles


TORTOISE, n. A creature thoughtfully created to supply occasion for the following lines by the illustrious Ambat Delaso:

Nesting Box Turtle

A box turtle photographed while digging her nest in GA.


My friend, you are not graceful — not at all;
Your gait’s between a stagger and a sprawl.

Nor are you beautiful: your head’s a snake’s
To look at, and I do not doubt it aches.

As to your feet, they’d make an angel weep.
‘Tis true you take them in whene’er you sleep.

No, you’re not pretty, but you have, I own,
A certain firmness — mostly your backbone.

Firmness and strength (you have a giant’s thews)
Are virtues that the great know how to use —

I wish that they did not; yet, on the whole,
You lack — excuse my mentioning it — Soul.

So, to be candid, unreserved and true,
I’d rather you were I than I were you.

Perhaps, however, in a time to be,
When Man’s extinct, a better world may see

Your progeny in power and control,
Due to the genesis and growth of Soul.

So I salute you as a reptile grand
Predestined to regenerate the land.

Father of Possibilities, O deign
To accept the homage of a dying reign!

In the far region of the unforeknown
I dream a tortoise upon every throne.

I see an Emperor his head withdraw
Into his carapace for fear of Law;

A King who carries something else than fat,
Howe’er acceptably he carries that;

A President not strenuously bent
On punishment of audible dissent —

Who never shot (it were a vain attack)
An armed or unarmed tortoise in the back;

Subject and citizens that feel no need
To make the March of Mind a wild stampede;

All progress slow, contemplative, sedate,
And “Take your time” the word, in Church and State.

O Tortoise, ’tis a happy, happy dream,
My glorious testudinous regime!

I wish in Eden you’d brought this about
By slouching in and chasing Adam out.

-Ambrose Bierce, from The Devil’s Dictionary
“There is no vertebrate group facing greater survival problems today. Turtles saw the great dinosaurs come and go and are now facing their own extinction crisis.”
Two box turtles mating in the woods in Georgia.

Two box turtles (Terrapene carolina) mating in the woods in Georgia.

The turtle lives ‘twixt plated decks

Which practically conceal its sex.
I think it clever of the turtle
In such a fix to be so fertile.
~Ogden Nash

“One could easily imagine an expression on his face depicting a mixture of pride and astonishment at the acrobatic feat he was successfully performing.”

-Cahn and Conder, 1932 (


¨“The dilemma of the long-lived species:  A general conclusion…is that the suite of life-history traits that coevolve with longevity results in populations that are severely limited in their ability to respond to chronic increases in mortality of neonates and even less so to increased mortality of juveniles or adults.”
­-Justin Congdon, A, Dunham and R. van Loben Sels, 1993 (Congdon, J.D., A.E. Dunham, and R.C. van Loben Sels. 1993. Delayed sexual maturity and demographics of Blanding’s Turtles

Baby Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina)

A juvenile Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) on a moss and lichen-covered log.

(Emydoidea blandingii): implication for conservation and management of long-lived organisms. Conservation Biology 7: 826-833. )


You know what it is to be born alone,

Baby tortoise!

The first day to heave your feet little by little

from the shell,

Not yet awake,

And remain lapsed on earth,

Not quite alive.


A tiny, fragile, half-animate bean.


To open your tiny beak-mouth, that looks as if

it would never open,

Like some iron door;

To lift the upper hawk-beak from the lower base

And reach your skinny little neck

And take your first bite at some dim bit of


Alone, small insect,

Tiny bright-eye,

Slow one.

~D.H. Lawrence, from Tortoises