Friday, June 24, 2016

Please Don't Squash The Turtles!

by Catherine Greenleaf

When early summer arrives and the humidity starts to rise, that is the signal for female Snapping Turtles and Painted Turtles to emerge from lakes and ponds and find a sandy spot to lay their eggs.

A typical clutch of Snapper eggs can range from 30-80 eggs, and a Snapper will often dig 4-5 holes before finding the perfect spot. Some people say a Snapper will dig several holes to outsmart raccoons, who love to hunt for the eggs and eat them. However, most likely the Snappers encounter tree roots or rocks and decide to start digging in another location. Painted Turtles, like the injured one in the photo above, usually lay 3-6 eggs per clutch.

Due to habitat loss, many Snapping Turtles must cross very busy roads to get to these sandy spots, and this can result in some catastrophic injuries. The Painted Turtle in the photos above and below was run over by a car on Route 10 in Lyme, N.H. in June. The turtle sustained a shell fracture reaching from the head area halfway across its back, as well as a deep tissue injury to its left front leg, and an eye injury. This turtle will be in rehabilitation until the end of the summer. 

The female Snapping Turtle below had already laid her clutch of eggs and was making her way back to a vernal pool in the Zeev Darer Wildlife Refuge along Rte. 120 in Lebanon, N.H., when she was hit by a car traveling in excess of 60 mph. Fortunately, it was a glancing blow, and she did survive the impact.

In the photo above you can see the extent of the fracture along the scutes across her back near the tail. This is often a delicate area, since the spine sits in this area just below the shell. You can see I have copiously flushed out the fracture, since internal organs are visible, and have treated the fracture with a special compound that acts as a topical antibiotic. The next step is to bring the fracture lines together using fasteners and wire. Her convalescence will take many months, and she will probably not be released back into the wild until the end of August.

The Painted Turtle below was also hit by a car on Route 10 in Lyme in June. This Painted's injury was a serious one, since a car ran right over her and broke one of the four bridges that fuse the top shell to the bottom shell.

To complicate matters, the Painted had not yet laid her eggs, so she was suffering from egg impaction. The crack in the shell extended from the right rear of her top shell, across a bridge and down into the bottom shell. This turtle took months to heal, but was eventually released back into the wild.

Turtles are amazingly resilient, and can survive injuries that seem sure to result in death. If you see an injured turtle on the road, Snapper or Painted, please call me at (603) 795-4850.

Copyright 2016