CHARLESTON — To say that West Virginia’s newest license plate breaks from tradition would be an understatement. The plate, which became available June 1, features an Eastern box turtle.
“The idea was to come up with a plate in 2021 that hadn’t been done before,” said Scott Warner, who heads up the Division of Natural Resources’ Natural Heritage Section.
“We wanted to feature a reptile or amphibian, but we looked at other animals, too. The graphic artist drew up a salamander, a hellbender, a box turtle, an owl and a bat. Everything except the turtle looked like a brown dot on the left side of the plate.”
Warner said the turtle drawing marked a radical departure from the state’s previous wildlife-plate offerings.
“For the other plates, there was always a background behind the bird, fish or animal we featured,” he explained. “The turtle plate is all about the turtle, with no landscape. It allows you to really see the turtle. That red eye will really pop out to people as they drive down the interstate.”
Proceeds from wildlife-plate sales help fund the DNR’s Natural Heritage Section. To ensure good sales, past plates have centered around creatures that would appeal to hunters, anglers and birdwatchers.
To date, the plates have featured a rose-breasted grosbeak, a black bear, a white-tailed deer, an Eastern bluebird, a brook trout and an Eastern elk.
“We try to come out with a new plate every five years,” Warner said. “Our last plate, the elk, came out just two years ago.”
That was before the DNR launched a crowd-sourced study into box turtle movements. Agency biologists asked West Virginians to report when and where they’d seen box turtles, and were flabbergasted by the thousands of responses they received.
“It showed us just how popular box turtles are to people,” Warner said. “That’s another factor that helped us decide to feature a turtle.”
Jesse Corliss, a graphic artist for the state Division of Motor Vehicles, designed the plate.
“Jesse had to make it clear to other motorists that they were looking at a turtle, and he had to fade the colors of the turtle’s shell so the license number would show up,” Warner said. “He did a tremendous job.”
Wildlife plates can be ordered from the DMV’s website, www.transportation.wv.gov.