Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Shy, Slow-Moving Turtles Know Where They’re Going

Why did the turtle cross the road? If you are like the Eastern box turtle pictured below, the answer is to find a place to lay her eggs, but they need your help!

Late May through June is nesting season for many species of turtles in New Jersey. During this time, it is not uncommon to see a turtle attempting to traverse a roadway in search of a prime location to lay her eggs. There is one problem with this, cars. Because turtles are slow moving and will instinctively freeze and retreat inside their shell if they sense danger, they are especially susceptible to being struck by vehicles.

One may wonder, what can be done to help? We are glad you asked. 

First, always drive cautiously. If you see a turtle crossing a busy road, move them several feet off the shoulder in the direction they were traveling. When helping a turtle, try not to over handle them. Most turtles can be picked up safely by holding them along the sides at the midpoint of their shells. Avoid picking them up by their tail as it may injure or traumatize them. 

Never attempt to pick up a snapping turtle by hand. Instead, find a stick or something to nudge them along to a secure place. Do not move a turtle to what you think is a more suitable location. Turtles do not adjust well to being removed from the place they call home. Turtles imprint on their home turf and will often try to return to it if moved. 

When handling a turtle, wear gloves or always wash your hands after holding them. Remember, turtles are protected in the state of New Jersey and cannot be taken from the wild as pets. It is also illegal to release a domestic turtle into the wild. If you find an injured turtle, immediately call a state licensed rehabilitator listed here: NJ Wildlife Rehabilitators.

All turtles in New Jersey dig holes in the ground to lay their eggs before covering them with soil. Generally speaking, sunny, open areas with soft soil or sand are preferred nesting sites. In suburban settings this can include yards, gardens, flower beds or mulch piles. If you are lucky enough to witness a turtle nesting around your home, just leave it alone until they are finished. 

Turtles are “set it and forget it” type parents, meaning once the female lays her eggs, her maternal obligations are complete.

To protect the nest from predators searching for an easy meal, pets, lawnmowers, or people inadvertently stepping on the eggs, simply erect a modest chicken wire fence extending 12-18 inches from the edge of the nest. 

Depending on the type of turtle, most eggs will hatch between 60 and 80 days. Be sure to remove the fence by August 1st so the hatchlings can be on their way to what we hope is a safe and long life.

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