Last week, while walking in the woods, I found this treasure: the shell of an Eastern Box Turtle–without the turtle in it, of course. I think it looks like an inkblot! But also, I am touched by this shell–it has that particular gravity that things like this do–fossils, shells, feathers–a remnant of a life.
It was already quite clean inside, but I wanted to make sure it would be clean enough to be preserved and also be safe in my apartment. According to the wisdom of the internet community (I found specialists on turtles and also preserving turtle shells), I scrubbed out the inside with warm water and dish soap and let it dry in the sun. Then I coated the convex side with Varathane so the scutes stay in place. Scutes, according to Wikipedia are, “The turtle’s shell is covered by scutes formed mostly of keratin. They are built similarly to horn, beak, or nail in other species.” If you find a white, bleached and bony looking turtle shell, it means the scutes have fallen off already.
In my research about preserving the shell, I also learned that Eastern Box Turtles should never be disturbed if you run across them in the wild. Don’t pick them up, and certainly don’t move them. Also, if you find a baby Eastern Box Turtle, leave it alone. As soon as they hatch, they are totally self sufficient, and if you move them away from their home ground, it really disorients them.