A brief overview of turtles in the Piedmont area of North Carolina.
Box Turtles [my favorite]: We are very lucky to live in an area that still has a population of box turtles. This population is declining--ask anyone who has been here for 20 years or more, and they will confirm that there used to be many more turtles than there are now. These turtles are mostly terrestrial and require a strong population density to maintain a sustainable population. Because they have different areas they inhabit, depending on the season, they often must cross roads. This results in many deaths and injuries. Loss of habitat is their main threat; however, pet trade and well-intentioned people have also effected their population.
Common Snapping turtle [I have been told we have the Alligator snapper in this area, but I don't believe it]: The real dinosaurs of our area. Snappers are actually very docile animals EXCEPT when they are out of water and feel threatened. Because they cannot protect themselves inside their shells like the timid box turtle, they have adapted by developing an aggressive attitude and BITE. These turtles do not bask as other water turtles do and rarely come out of the water. They must come out to lay their eggs in spring and to find more water if their home dries up. If you see snapper in the road be CAREFUL. They can be moved most safely by keeping their mouth occupied. I generally find a big stick for them to bite and move them that way. They have very long and fast necks, so picking them up by the shell is not a great idea, unless you pick them up only using the shell behind their back legs. This is tricky, because they are so powerful. They can be picked up by their tail, which is not as kind, but beats being hit by a car, but you still have to WATCH that mouth. While the old wives' tail that a snapper will not let go until it thunders may not be true, they sure do like to hold on!
Other water turtles [musk, painted, sliders]: We also have a variety of water turtles in the area. Often these are seen basking on logs in the water. These turtles also must come out to lay their eggs and can be killed in the road also.
Life Cycle: All turtles lay eggs, generally in late spring/early summer. These eggs hatch in 60 to 90 days. The babies may emerge in late summer, or stay underground until the spring. The mortality of these young turtles is very high due to predation.
What can you do? If you see a turtle crossing the road, safely pull to the side of the road, and safely take the turtle to the side of the road they are headed. If you take it back to the side they came from, they will only try and cross again! They know where they are going! Turtles can sustain very large injuries and still survive with proper care. Therefore, if you see a turtle with an injury try and get it to a person that can help. Piedmont Wildlife Center can help. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, use extreme care in rescuing turtles on the roadway!
What NOT to do: Please do not relocate turtles to areas that you feel may be better for the turtle. Turtles have a strong homing instinct ant many have been killed as they attempt to return to their home range. Do not keep turtles as pets; taking a turtle out of the wild takes away the opportunity to mate and have young, which is necessary to sustain their dwindling populations.
Laws Protecting Turtles: Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), box turtles are identified as "Appendix III Species," meaning that they are in jeopardy of becoming endangered, so that their trade must be regulated and they cannot be transported across international boundaries without federal permits. In North Carolina, it is generally against the law to collect box turtles without a permit issued by the NC Wildlife Commission. Recently, in response to rapidly declining populations caused by large-scale collection and sale for food and traditional medicines in the Far East, the NC legislature has outlawed the commercial trapping of water turtles and authorized the NC Wildlife Commission to develop further guidelines and rules governing their collection.
IF YOU FIND AN INJURED TURTLE don't assume it will die. Try and get it to someone who can help. Piedmont Wildlife Center have excellent facilities for doing shell repair and other care for sick or injured turtles. They can be contacted at 572-WILD. Don't try and feed the turtle, they can go a very long time without food, DO offer it water, place it in a dark quiet place until you can get it to help. Keep it warm 75-85 degrees.
Want to know more?? See the links to the right.