Turtle Shells No Match for Tires

By Mike Marchand, Wildlife Biologist

Spring is a welcome sight in New Hampshire, and one of the signs of the season is turtles migrating to nesting habitat. It's a good time of year to learn more about turtles and how you can help them survive. Nesting season lasts from late May to early July, reaching maximum intensity in early June (click to skip to "How you can help our turtles survive").

Spring is one of my favorite times of year, but also one that brings me much sadness and frustration...turtle nesting season. Male turtles often move among ponds during the spring in search of potential mates, but the amount of movement of male turtles generally doesn't even begin to approach that of females. Females that hope to contribute to future generations MUST leave the relative safety of ponds and wetlands. Biologically speaking, female turtles could be considered more important than males in local populations. That's not to say that males aren't needed. To complete reproduction and produce young, both males and females are required. However, female turtles carry the hope of future generations within their shell.

To find an appropriate nesting habitat, females may travel several meters or more, seeking a sandy or other well-drained area that is open to sunlight. Female turtles dig a nest chamber, deposit eggs, cover the eggs with soil, and depart, leaving the turtle embryos and future young turtles to fend for themselves. Predators, primarily raccoons, may dig up and destroy a large number of eggs. Although it saddens me to observe a turtle nest that has been destroyed by raccoons, it is generally not catastrophic for local populations. Turtles have overcome this problem by being able to live a very long time...with some local species of turtles possibly exceeding 70 years. Everything eats turtles when they are small...raccoons, great blue herons...even a bullfrog on occasion. As turtles approach adulthood, they are generally less vulnerable to predators. But low survival of young isn't the only reason why turtles must live a long time -- female turtles of some species may not be capable of reproducing until 15 years of age or later!!!

Today, the biggest threat to turtle populations in New Hampshire is being struck by automobiles on roadways. As I mentioned, female turtles must leave the relative safety of ponds and wetlands to find appropriate nesting areas. Although some species of turtles, such as painted turtles, are still relatively common, local populations are beginning to feel the effects of development and the associated increasing levels and speeds of traffic. Recent research has showed that some turtle populations near roads have proportionally more male turtles than females, compared with turtle populations where roads are few. Maintaining and improving wildlife's ability to move across a landscape of forests, wetlands, rivers and human-developed areas is a critical challenge.

Turtle nesting season extends from late May through early July. It reaches maximum intensity in early June.

HERE ARE A FEW THINGS YOU CAN DO TO HELP OUR TURTLES SURVIVE:

1) Slow down and watch for turtles in roadways!

2) Help turtles cross roads safely. If you see a turtle crossing a road and it is safe for you to do so, help it cross in the direction it was traveling.

3) Don't take the turtle home or move it far from where you found it. A turtle taken to your home is a turtle lost from the local population.

4) If a turtle is injured, click here for a list of Wildlife Rehabilitators, or call Fish and Game's Wildlife Division at (603) 271-2461 for a list of rehabilitators in your area. Click here for more on what to do if you find an injured turtle.

5) Report turtle sightings to New Hampshire Fish and Game's Reptile and Amphibian Reporting Program (click here for how to report).

6) Work with land trusts and town officials to help conserve important natural areas in your community.

By taking these steps, we can all help to ensure that New Hampshire's turtles stay abundant and healthy.

For more about our turtles, see Turtles of NH.


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NH Fish and Game Dept.
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