Thanks to the classic children’s book, many have learned to make way for ducklings. But this time of year, beginning around Mother’s Day and continuing till Father’s Day, is when to also make way for turtles.
During this four to six week stretch, eight species found in Central Mass., including the yellow spotted Eastern Box turtle and the prehistoric looking Snapping Turtle, will be making their slow and steady race to hatching spots at a golf course or back yard near you.
But as towns have grown over the years, many of the turtle’s routes to nesting areas are divided by busy roads, making the SUV, and the distracted driver behind the wheel, one of the most deadly predators for a species that has survived over 215 million years.
“Last year, we had 41 injured turtles brought to us,” said Robin Shearer, program assistant at the Tufts Wildlife Clinic. In the past two weeks, Shearer has received 10.
It is a busy time for all local turtle species. Females leave their familiar wetlands for a spot of sand or mulch where they bury approximately 15, 35 or even 100 ping pong ball sized eggs, till they hatch in August or September.
“This is prime time season for turtles to lay eggs,” said William Davis, district manager of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. “As areas develop, the population gets squeezed.”
Allexia Bell, who runs the Turtle Rescue League in Webster, said all turtle species populations are in decline due to automobiles and over-development. So far this year, she has taken in 25 injured turtles.
Even without cars, the odds of a turtle growing to adulthood are slim. Only 60 percent of the eggs hatch and unless the nest is close to water, many more will be eaten by skunks, raccoons, hawks and other predators as the babies find their way back. Others will be crushed by a passing auto or truck.
Bell said if you see a turtle crossing the road, slow down or stop if it is safe. Let them cross to its destination, and don’t try to relocate or redirect them.
“They’re on a mission to lay eggs at a specific spot,” she said.
That spot could be in unusual places. Many people call Davis at Mass. Wildlife to report a turtle who laid eggs in their backyard. He recommends a chicken wire fence at least 18 inches across, 12 inches away from the nest, and six inches deep to protect them from predators. Late summer, the hatchlings will emerge and find their way to the pond or river the mother came from.
“She won’t come back for them,” he said. “They’re on their own.”
What to Do If You Spot a Turtle in the Road
1. Avoid picking them up. Let them cross on their own.
2. Don’t relocate or redirect them. A turtle is following its instincts and needs to complete its mission.
3. If you see an injured or dead turtle, take it to a vet, Tufts Wildlife Clinic in Grafton, or contact the Turtle Rescue League at turtlerescueleague.com. The turtle might not live, but the eggs could be harvested.
4. Don’t adopt it. They are wild animals and the stress of being out of their environment will kill it.