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Painted Turtle. Photo by Bet Zimmerman
Turtle habitat is increasingly being carved up by roads and development. They often need to take a risky road trip to get to a suitable spot to lay their eggs. More...
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It’s that time of year again when turtles bring cars to a screeching halt. Most of Connecticut’s eight resident species of turtles are aquatic. However, they lay their eggs on dry land during late spring and early summer.  Since their habitat is increasingly being carved by roads and development, they often need to take a risky road trip to get to a suitable spot. That spot can be several hundred feet or even a mile away.

Snapping Turtle trying to cross the road. Photo by Bet Zimmerman
Snapping Turtles are timid in water and will swim away from humans or dig down into the bottom mud, but get defensive on land. If traffic is light, gently tap the shell with a stick to nudge it across the road. 

If you help a turtle avoid becoming flattened fauna, do so safely. Signal before pulling over and move your car completely off the road.  Watch for traffic.  Look to see which direction the turtle was facing, and then bring it to that side of the road. 

Do NOT take the turtle home. Turtles live a long time, but they also take a long time to reach breeding age. They do not lay very many eggs, and a lot of the eggs and hatchlings do not survive.  Thus every turtle that makes it to adulthood is critical.  Turtles also have very specific dietary and habitat requirements, and can pass diseases like salmonella to humans. Keeping a rare turtle as a pet is illegal.

The two species you are most likely to see are Snapping Turtles and Painted Turtles.  Painted turtles are Connecticut’s most abundant turtle.  This is the kind you often found in groups, basking on logs in a pond. 

Snapping Turtles are timid in water and will swim away from humans or dig down into the bottom mud, but get defensive on land.  If traffic is light, gently tap the shell with a stick to nudge it across the road.  Although smaller Snapping Turtles may be safely carried by the tips of their tails with outstretched arm and the bottom shell facing you, carrying a larger one this way can injure their tail, so they should be carried by their back legs instead.  However, with those long necks and strong jaws, it’s probably best to use a stick, or put them on a shovel or into a garbage can if you happen to have one.  If a snapping turtle bites, it will not let you go till the next thunderstorm. At least that was an old wives’ tale told to encourage curious young children to steer clear of them.

Other species in our area include Stinkpots or Common Musk Turtles, which are secretive, so you will rarely see them.  They earned their name by releasing a foul-smelling secretion when captured. They have a rounded shell and stripes on their head. Spotted turtles, which have small spots on their shells and head, are fairly common.  Three species are really scarce in CT, mainly because of road kills and filling of wetlands: Eastern Box Turtles - domed shell with bright markings, State listed as Endangered; Bog Turtles - small with conspicuous yellow, orange, or reddish blotch on each side of head, listed as Special Concern; and Wood Turtles - rough shell that looks like it has little pyramids on it, listed as Special Concern.  Diamondback Terrapins are found in tidal areas, so don’t expect them in the Northeastern CT.

Turtles use their hind feet to dig holes in soft dirt where they lay their eggs.  In most species, the baby’s sex is determined by the temperature during development.  Warmer temperatures result in females and cooler temperatures make males.  Although eggs may hatch in August or September, the hatchlings of some species winter underground and do not leave the nest until the following spring.


Originally published in The Woodstock Villager, May 2005

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