J.T. Lantz

J.T. Lantz, a third grade turtle enthusiast, holds a picture of “Boxy,” a wood turtle that lives in his family’s backyard. He wants to raise awareness for wood turtles, because it is a species of concern.

WELLSBORO — It is not uncommon for the Gazette to receive letters from readers. But this newspaper doesn’t usually get letters from third graders, much less letters about wood turtles.

Eight-year-old J.T. Lantz, of Mansfield, read in National Geographic — which he and his mom, Amanda Lantz, read together every night — that people can write to newspapers to raise awareness about endangered animals. So, J.T. wrote to the Gazette a few weeks ago (published Aug. 27) to spread awareness about wood turtles, which is a species of concern in Pennsylvania.

Wood turtles have a special place in J.T.’s heart. A few years ago, his younger sister found a wood turtle in their backyard. They named it “Boxy,” as they originally thought it was a box turtle.

“Boxy is one of our bestest friends of an animal and I just wanted to make sure he was protected,” J.T. said.

So, J.T. researched wood turtles, with some help from his dad, Chris Lantz, and learned it’s illegal to take, catch or kill wood turtles.

“If they see where one’s laid its eggs, keep it a secret and never tell anybody where they are. You should never tell anybody their exact location because you could be leading a poacher right to them,” he said. Their eggs and shells make them very valuable.

If someone does see a wood turtle, he suggests they leave it alone, unless they’re helping it cross the road.

J.T., a third grader at Warren L. Miller, said his family’s backyard has a big pond and is kind of like a reserve for animals.

“There’s a huge ecosystem back there,” J.T. said. They’ve seen snakes, lizards, turtles (including “Snap Jaw,” a snapping turtle) and frogs in their backyard pond. They had a few protected nesting sites for toads and, in his words, there was a “big explosion of them everywhere.” He estimates there were probably 10,000 toads, give or take a few.

Some cool wood turtle facts that J.T. shared are the differences between the male and female wood turtles. Females have a black line on their underside. Males usually have browner eyes, whereas females have redder eyes. Wood turtles eat slugs, insects and dandelions.

“They do not chew their food because they have these beaks,” J.T. said. “So Boxy would use his sharp beak to like, maybe cut a worm and then swallow the part he gets. Or maybe cut off parts of a leaf and then swallow it. Kind of like a scissor.”

There’s also no way to tell a turtle’s age.

“Scientists believe as many rings as it has on its back is how old he is. But there’s no real way to tell a turtle’s age. So Boxy is either 12 or six,” J.T. said.

J.T. is not sure what his future holds in regards to writing letters to the editor, but he does know he wants to work with animals and the environment when he is older.

“I want to help animals when I grow up. The first thing I told my parents I would do when I was all grown up was to help Boxy’s kind. But I guess I’m doing that while I’m still a kid,” J.T. said.