Here's some Frequently Asked Questions we get asked. When in doubt, always call a wildlife rehabber!
1) Check on your pets when they are outdoors. It's becoming increasingly common for us to receive turtles who have had their shell gnawed on by a dog. Turtle shells are made of bone, so to our furry companions, that's just a big bone they can chew on. It's important to keep an eye on your pups when they are outside - these injuries are often fatal if not caught quickly.
2) Keep turtles in the wild Please never ever take a turtle from the wild. Taking a turtle from it's natural environment has a whole range of consequences.
Native turtles housed with pet species are no longer releasable due to the risk of spreading disease; see the following point for more details. Also, we cannot replicate their natural environment better than nature can. We often find turtles with all sorts of health issues, due to poor husbandry from a lack of understanding of their natural history. Though even with the best setups mimicking their natural environment, that turtle wants and deserves to be in the wild. Removing a turtle from the wild means that turtle is effectively dead to that population.
3) Never release pet turtles. Equally important as never taking a turtle from the wild, is never releasing a pet turtle. Pet species, such as red-eared sliders, have no geographical overlap with our local species, and carry a wide range of pathogens that our local populations have no resistance to. Most of these diseases cannot be tested for. If the virus is allowed to spread and mutate in the wild, there will be no way to control this, and it could lead to a pandemic. Reptiles are in global decline, and 4 out of 7 of NH's turtle species are already Listed species, so this could result in the extinction of our native turtle species.
In addition to spreading disease, pet species can out compete native turtles, reduce the available territory, and take away resources. In other parts of the country, red-eared sliders even outnumber other native turtles, such as the similar-looking painted turtle, so we want to do everything we can to avoid this happening in NH as well. Unfortunately we hear more and more reports of these pet species found in the wild here.
4) Watch for turtles crossing the road. For more details, see the How can I help a turtle cross the road? question listed below in the FAQs.
5) Survey before mowing. Another incident we see is injuries from lawn mowers. Help wildilfe by doing a survey of your lawn before starting mowing, to identify if any critters are using your grass for cover. Box turtles in particular are known to be affected by this, and are already critically endangered in the state.
From May to September turtles are on the move!
You can make a huge impact by being on the lookout for turtles crossing the road during these pivotal months. Helping a turtle cross the road can truly be the difference between life or death for that individual.
The featured photo shows how you handle most native turtles to New Hampshire, behind the front limbs. Many turtles will retract into their shell, but others will try to run away by flailing their arms and legs, and may even slightly scratch the skin. Keep very low to the ground to avoid hurting them if you accidentally lose your grip and drop them. Their pushing strength can be surprising!
There's one exception to how you handle turtles with the common snapping turtle, since they can reach quite far with their necks, and have a tendency to be defensive out of water, so you need to grasp the bottom 1/3 of the body (but NEVER by the tail!). Check out the Toronto Zoo's video for tips on helping a snapping turtle cross the road.
First off, CONGRATS! Not many people get to witness the nesting behavior of turtles, and it's an amazing site to behold.
The single most important thing we can do is NOT disturb her while she's nesting. When turtles are disturbed from nesting, it forces them go find a new location, and this is often a very dangerous feat. There's many factors that came into play when choosing this spot, and now she has to start the process over - traveling far, often across roads, risking herself and her eggs.
The best thing to give her space and keep pets clear of the area. It may take a while, but soon she will be on her way, and you may also have just saved her life.
Here's a few additional things to keep in mind -
1) Turtles do not receive parental care. She will not return to the nest this year. Hatchlings will typically emerge around August/September, though painted turtles may overwinter in the nest. After emergence, they will make their way to the local wetlands.
2) Eggs are deposited underground. Turtles often spend an entire evening digging a nest to lay their eggs. Females dig deep into the ground with their hind legs, deposit eggs, and then meticulously cover the hole back up. Ideally a nest be left undisturbed, but the eggs are protected deep down there, so even if it's in a regularly used location, they should be safe underground. Keep an eye out for hatchlings emerging in early Fall.
3) Nest locations are reused. When possible, turtles often return to the same nesting locations year after year, so it's likely this turtle has used your home for nesting in the past. They are very particular about where they nest, so even if it seems unideal to us, she's taken a lot into account when choosing this spot.
4) Nests are regularly predated. Most turtle nests are predated. Skunks and raccoons in particular are amazing at finding nests. If you're interested in protecting the eggs, reach out and we can help with tips. If you're concerned about the location and really want the eggs moved, this is a risky process that may result in no eggs being viable, and it's likely nature will take it's course anyways.
These are just some tips, but please call a wildlife rehabber if you have an uncertainty about a situation. We're here to help!
We never ever ever want to relocate turtles. Turtles have local adaptations and are very tied to their territories, so they should never be moved.
Relocation has been studied in turtles, and it greatly reduces their chances of survival. That individual may be forever in pursuit of that previous territory. In rehabilitation, relocation is avoided at all costs, and we always try to return as close as possible to the location where found.
They travel far in search of nesting locations, access to food and suitable environments, but they are very aware of their surroundings, and we need to trust they know where they are going. If you see a turtle crossing the road, always move in the direction they were heading. If concerned about a particular situation, call a wildlife rehabber.