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Pennsylvania turtles are out searching for nesting sites



Published: Fri, June 8, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Seeing Pennsylvania's turtles on the road is not uncommon this time of year as they look for suitable nesting sites.

For many of the state's native turtles this is the time of the year they are most likely to be walking on land as they go in search of nesting locations.

The greatest amount of travel occurs in late May and early June. Pennsylvania's turtles nest on land, and as roads often follow waterways, many turtles must work their way from lakes, ponds, streams and wetlands across the pavement to areas where they can dig in sand or soil to lay their eggs.

Slow moving turtles are no match for vehicular traffic. Pennsylvanians can expect to see an increased number of turtles on roads over the next few weeks and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission offers these tips to conservation-minded motorists to ensure that these interesting reptiles make it to their destinations.

U Be alert to the possibility of encountering turtles on the road. Turtles are often difficult to see on the road due to their darkly colored shells and low profile. Indeed, they can resemble a rock.

U Know when turtles are most likely to be on the move. Warm, humid mornings preceded by rainy nights are especially conducive to turtle movement.

U Don't assume you won't see a turtle just because you're not near a body of water.

Low lying areas near wetlands, swamps, lakes, streams, rivers and ponds do provide habitat for many turtle species for most of the year. However, when nesting, turtles may travel several hundred yards to open, upland areas where soils are drier and warmth from the sun promotes egg incubation.

People who see turtles on the road often attempt to & quot;help & quot; them by picking them up and moving them. According to Andrew Shiels, Leader of the PFBC's Nongame and Endangered Species Unit, this is acceptable when it can be done safely for both the person and the turtle - provided the person moves the turtle to the other side of the road in the same direction that it was traveling. & quot;Moving them in the same direction is very important, & quot; Shiels stressed. & quot;Turtles have well defined homing instincts and if they are moved back to where they just came from will usually try to cross the road again, thus increasing their chances of being hit by an auto. & quot; Shiels pointed out that well-meaning persons sometimes pick up a turtle and take it with them, often to a nature center or pet shop. & quot;People think they are saving them, when in fact they're doing more harm than good. Turtles brought into nature centers or pet shops often cannot be released back into the wild because of a lack of information as to where they were picked up. It can be ecologically damaging to release turtles into areas where they are not native, & quot; he said. After nesting is completed, usually over the course of several hours, turtles will head back towards their homes. Depending on the species, air temperatures, soil moisture and other environmental conditions, most species will hatch between 45 and 90 days, with a little over two months being the average. Baby turtles of some species leave the nest immediately, while others will hatch out but remain buried under the soil over the winter, only to emerge the following spring.

Turtles sometimes nest in unexpected locations such as sand traps at golf courses, in bark mulch around houses, and along roadsides in loose fill material.

To protect nesting turtles and other reptiles, Commission regulations prohibit persons from disturbing the nests or eggs. Unfortunately, for the turtles, non-human predators such as skunks and raccoons are particularly fond of digging up turtle nests and eating the eggs. Such predation, in addition to habitat fragmentation and loss continue to lessen the already low odds of hatchlings surviving to maturity. So, during your travels on Pennsylvania's roads this spring and summer keep your eyes open, drive with caution and you just may help a turtle make it to the other side.




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