Saturday, July 18, 2009

Turtles in the Road

Saturday, July 18, 2009

June and July are the busiest months of the year for box turtles. Here in SE Ohio any morning following an evening rain I know I'm going to see at least one box turtle crossing the road as I drive into town to work. If it's possible to stop I do, picking up the turtle gently and transporting it across the road in the direction it was heading.

I always try to determine the sex of the turtle. Males have a concave plastron on the bottom of their shells—for a better fit when they are fertilizing the eggs inside a female. I also check each turtle for signs that they've been hit and hurt by a passing vehicle. If they're hurt, I take them home to Dr. Zick Medicine Woman. She uses her healing powers, her knowledge of animal rehabilitation, and her network of contacts in the world of box turtle lovers. When the turtles are fully recovered, we release them where we found them.

On a recent morning I found a medium-sized female crossing the road in front of Bird Watcher's Digest. Where she was headed or coming from, I'm not sure. There's no sizeable box turtle habitat nearby—only small patches of woods scattered around a small-own neighborhood. I guessed she might have been an escapee from a well-meaning human turtle-napper. People see a turtle crossing the road and they think it's lost, so they take it home to their backyard, or garden, or aquarium tank, and keep it. It's far better to help them cross the road and let them be. I picked up this gal and took her into the office.

She was in fine health, showing some signs that a chipmunk, squirrel, or raccoon had tried to chew their way into her shell. Her left front foot was missing some toes and nails, probably from the same mammal attack.

After a phone consultation with Dr. Zick, we agreed that we'd let her go on our farm where she'd at least have a chance at finding other box turtles. That would be highly unlikely in the yards and streets of the part of Marietta where I'd found her.

It is said that box turtles may roam the same bit of habitat their entire lives. When removed from their home range, they will roam around trying to re-find it. What a sad thing. For this female, found crossing a busy city road, we really had no choice but to relocate her to a safer place. So she came home with me to Indigo Hill—80 acres of prime box turtle habitat: old deciduous woods and no busy roads.

We fed her up on earthworms, blueberries, and banana and released her along the dirt path that skirts our meadow. She immediately walked over and submerged herself in a puddle, taking a long soak. Now she'd know where a source of water was. As we walked back to the house, we talked about what she must be thinking. And we wondered if we'd ever see her again. If we do, we'll know her by her left front foot.

Box turtles face a lot of dangers during their long lives. For every turtle I "save" by helping across the road, I see at least ten that are already smashed. I hope there's never a time when we are forced to talk about box turtles in the past tense. So I keep on helping them whenever I can.


On July 18, 2009 at 3:18 PM Tom said...

Very nice Bill. I love box turtles, and growing up in NE Ohio we just didn't have them. Most residents of Ohio don't realize that they're actually required to get a license from the Division of Wildlife if they are in possession of any native non-game reptile or amphibian. There are actually pretty strict regs about keeping herps here in Ohio that not many people know about.


On July 18, 2009 at 4:07 PM A New England Life said...

The sad thing is that I think some people will actually run over them on purpose.

Good for you in rescuing and helping the Box Turtles when you can. Surely you have made a difference in many little turtle's lives. That little lady has had a rough life. Hopefully you've helped to turn it around.

On July 18, 2009 at 4:08 PM Calliope said...

Where I live there are tons of turtles, because there are a lot of lakes, and my mom and I always try to make sure they don't get run over.

<3 Callie

On July 19, 2009 at 10:33 AM Patricia said...

Great post. I am glad that you consulted with a professional before deciding to relocate the turtle. You are correct that turtles have a home-range, and should never be removed from it, unless in imminent danger. If a move must happen, it is best to take them to a wildlife center, where the turtle can be fitted with a transmitter. This allows her to be monitored, to be sure she is not roaming back into dangerous situations, and finding a good hibernation spot.

What is the ratio of male/female of the turtles you find crossing? This would be interesting data.

Thanks for you good work!

On July 19, 2009 at 3:18 PM butmonky said...

I saved a Blanding's crossing the causeway at Magee Marsh and the silly thing tried to pee on me. It was a good sized one ,too, the turtle, not the pee.

Sandy B

On July 19, 2009 at 11:14 PM Mary C said...

I didn't realize that box turtles are only in certain regions of the country. I remember encountering a few box turtles when I was growing up in suburban Baltimore, MD (1950's). Does anyone know how long they usually live (provided they haven't been killed)? That was a neat story, Bill.

On July 24, 2009 at 5:35 PM Anonymous said...

Although some of the literature states that the lifespan is 50-60, there are records of wild box turtles living to be over 100.

Unfortunately, their numbers are declining. A female will lay up to 11 eggs a year; again some of the literature says 5-6, but I've observed 11 in more than one instance. The overwhelming majority of nests are destroyed by predators, and only a small percentage of the hatchlings that escape nest predation survive. Combine that with human poaching – by well-meaning folks who take turtles home and release them in their yards (they have home ranges and often wander if relocated), people who try to keep them as pets (wild turtles usually don't do well), or commercial dealers – and you have a recipe for extinction in the wild.

Eastern box turtles are now endangered in Massachusetts and probably should be in a number of other states.