Tag Archives: turtles

Eastern Box Turtle © Kevin McCarthy

Take 5: Turtle Takeover

There are 10 species of turtles in Massachusetts, ranging from the tiny bog turtle, which measures 3-4” long, to the prehistoric-looking snapping turtle, which can grow up to 19” long. In addition, five sea turtles visit our shores, occasionally becoming stranded on beaches. Although many turtle species live in the water, all must breathe air and lay eggs on land.

With so much variety, it’s hard not to love these impressive, ancient reptiles, so here are five photos of native turtle species from past entries to our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.

Please remember, although it’s wonderful to observe and appreciate turtles from a distance, it’s usually best to leave them to their business, especially those species that are protected by state or federal endangered species acts. Learn more about what to do in various turtle encounters on our website.

Snapping Turtle © Jim Morelly

Snapping Turtle © Jim Morelly

Wood Turtle © Jim Morelly

Wood Turtle © Jim Morelly

Painted Turtle © John Aberhart

Painted Turtle © John Aberhart

Eastern Box Turtle © Kevin McCarthy

Eastern Box Turtle © Kevin McCarthy

Diamond-backed Terrapin © Alyse Roe

Diamond-backed Terrapin © Alyse Roe

How to Help Turtles

Go out for a nature walk on a sunny day and there’s a good chance you’ll spot a turtle basking in the sun. If something is so common, it probably doesn’t need our help, right? Not so fast. Turtles may be found in our ponds, streams, rivers, and oceans, but they still need our help.

Painted turtles © Tammy Vezin

Of the 10 species of freshwater turtles found in Massachusetts, 6 are listed as Endangered, Threatened, or Special Concern under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. And the five sea turtles found in U.S. waters are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Read on to find out when to take action, when to let nature take its course, and what you can do to ensure turtles have a home in Massachusetts for future generations.

On the Road

Snapping Turtle

In late spring and early summer, adult female turtles cross roads in search of nest sites. People, with best intentions, mistakenly attempt to return a turtle to water, take it home, or, take it somewhere that seems safer and release it. The best thing to do is leave it alone. The turtle knows where it wants to go.

If a turtle is in danger of being hit by cars, it can be moved in the direction it was headed, to the other side of the road. Snapping turtles can be dangerous and should not be handled. They are surprisingly fast for their size and can extend their necks the length of their carapace. Never pick up a snapping turtle by the tail because you could seriously injure it. If you need to intervene, you can try to safely block traffic or use a very long stick to nudge it in the right direction.

In Your Backyard

Turtles looking to lay eggs frequently wander into yards, especially those near ponds, lakes, and rivers. These animals should not be disturbed, but can be observed from a distance.

People often ask whether they should protect a turtle’s nest with fencing. This is not an easy question to answer. Predators that seek turtle eggs are usually a natural part of the environment. If you wish, you may flag the site in order to locate it in the fall and possibly observe the hatchlings.

On the Beach

Wellfleet Bay’s Sea Turtle Patrol © Esther Horvath

In late fall, early winter sea turtles begin the journey south to warmer, tropical waters. Often, young sea turtles will get trapped in Cape Cod Bay and “cold-stunned,” making the turtles too cold to eat, drink, or even swim. When this happens, they often wash up along the beach.

Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary coordinates a volunteer operation each year to rescue these turtles and transport them to the New England Aquarium, where they can be treated and eventually released. Learn more and find out how you can volunteer >

In Your Everyday Life

Sometimes, it’s the little things that make the biggest impacts. A few tips to keep in mind:

  • Properly dispose of balloons and plastic bags to keep these deadly items out of waterways, where they can be consumed by turtles and other wildlife.
  • Don’t take a wild turtle home as a pet. Well-meaning folks may take a wild turtle home, realize it needs special care, and then release it. Its chances of surviving after captivity are not good.
  • Don’t release a pet turtle into the wild. Turtles found at pet stores are typically not-native and may be invasive. If released into the wild, they can crowd out our native populations.
  • Protect turtle habitat by supporting local land conservation efforts. Get involved in your town Conservation Commission to protect critical local wetlands and find out more on what your town is doing.

More On Turtles

Get a look at Turtles By the Numbers:

Saving Stranded Sea Turtles

Sea TurtleMolly Shuman-Goodier of Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary reports on this year’s sea turtle stranding season.

Every year come fall, the lower air and water temperatures lead to the stranding of many “cold-stunned” sea turtles on Cape Cod.

Strandings are not a new phenomenon: plenty of fish, turtles, and birds wash up each year. Yet, sea turtles are of particular interest because they are endangered, and we owe them a little help.

Why They Get Stranded

The kemps ridley, loggerhead, and green sea turtle juveniles that cold stun on the Cape are ectothermic organisms, meaning they cannot regulate their body temperatures. This means that the turtles unfortunate enough to swim into Cape Cod Bay get stuck as the water (and their body) temperature cools.

Unable to swim actively, the winter temperatures render the turtles helpless against the strong winds and tides. They wash up on bayside beaches were Mass Audubon staff and dedicated volunteers patrol tirelessly after high tides to locate turtles. Once found, the turtles are then sent to the New England Aquarium for rehab.

The Season So Far

After a record high of 198 total sea turtle sightings this summer, we knew 2012 would be a busy cold stun season. Volunteers and staff at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary worked around the clock during the busy period from November 22 to December 1, recovering over 150 turtles in 11 days, some weighing up to 100 pounds.

As December 13, 253 turtles have washed up cold-stunned, making this year the 2nd highest stranding year out of over 30 years on record. What makes this year especially significant is that 173 turtles have been encountered alive, meaning recovery rates at the aquarium will be higher than ever.

That said, there are still a couple more weeks left in the season, so we’d best get back out on the beaches!

Learn more about sea turtle strandings from Wellfleet Bay and what happens to the turtles once they’ve been rescued.