Nesting season spells danger for determined, fearless and slow-moving turtles
Three midland painted turtles are in the care of the Wildlife Education & Rehabilitation staff at Lake Erie Nature & Science Center after sustaining shell injuries. All three were hit by cars while crossing the road.
“The repair on a turtle’s shell can take as long as a few years depending on the placement and depth of the crack,” says Wildlife Rehabilitation Coordinator Amy LeMonds. “We nursed a snapping turtle back to health for two years after it sustained a shell injury.” The Center expects to keep the currently injured turtles in rehabilitation until at least next year.
This is a very dangerous time of year for these turtles because it is their peak nesting season. From May to July, painted turtles will leave the safety of their pond, river or lake and travel to their nesting grounds to lay eggs. Turtles return to the same place to nest every year, even if it is miles away from their home or over dangerous terrain. Nothing will stop a turtle when it’s trying to reach its nesting grounds. These determined little fellows will fearlessly cross a busy street.
“If you see a painted turtle trying to cross the road, it’s best to allow it to continue on its journey,” LeMonds advises. “If you feel interference is necessary – and you can intervene safely – then help the turtle cross the street in the direction that it is headed. If you move the turtle to a “safer” location, you may inadvertently put it at a disadvantage by placing it farther away from its nesting grounds and it will head right back in the same direction.”
Painted turtles can lay anywhere from 4-15 eggs. After burying the eggs, they return to the water, providing no parental care for the eggs or the babies that hatch. The gender of the eggs depends upon the temperature of the nesting grounds at the time they hatch. Warmer temperatures tend to produce females, whereas cooler temperatures tend to produce males.
In the United States there are many subspecies of painted turtles, but only the midland painted turtle is found in Ohio. They have a red and black coloration along the underside of their plates that gives the appearance of being painted on by hand. Painted turtles prefer to live in quiet and shallow freshwater areas. During warm summer days they can be seen basking in the sun on rocks and logs. During the winter, painted turtles will seek deeper water and burrow into the mud at the bottom. They slow their heart rate and absorb oxygen through their skin.
If you see a turtle that you think is in need of help, please call Lake Erie Nature & Science Center at 440-871-2900 prior to attempting a rescue.
“Please do not jeopardize your safety in attempting to rescue any animal,” LeMonds says. “It’s also worth noting that painted turtles will not harm you, but if you see a snapping turtle crossing the road, it is best to let them cross unaided as their bite can be quite powerful.”
Joanna Galysh is a Community Relations intern at Lake Erie Nature & Science Center.