June seems to be when the turtles come out. In the last few weeks, Dan and I have moved probably dozens of turtles off of the road and out of harm’s way. Around here, the landscape is so rocky that sandy roadsides are incredibly appealing to turtles as potential nest sites. We’ve seen a good mix of species along the roads. The Snapping Turtles whose eggs I wrote about earlier are one of the more common species, although I’ve seen fewer adults than I have depredated nests.
This individual was along the shoulder while I was doing my point count route. On my way back, after I’d finished the counts, she had moved out into the middle of the road, so I stopped the car and shooed her back into the ditch. She was moderate in size, her shell perhaps a foot long, although very old individuals can get nearly twice this big. Most turtles sort of drag themselves along, shell to ground, but as I nudged her with my toe, she lifted herself off the ground and hurried across the road in a peculiar, stilt-legged gait. Note the sharp “beak” in the first photo. Snapping Turtles are omnivorous, but favour protein, and will eat mostly anything they can catch including vertebrates such as fish and ducklings. They have powerful, crushing jaws, and can do some damage to well-intentioned fingers – hence why I moved her by prodding her with my toe.
The other species we’ve seen a lot of is Map Turtles. These guys superficially resemble Painted Turtles from a distance, being about the same size and general shape, and with yellow markings along their necks and legs. However, when you get closer you can see that their shell has a ridge running down the backbone, and they lack any red in their patterning. Supposedly the name Map comes from the pattern of swirly-cues on their shell, which to some people resembles maps of watercourses or topography. They’re a locally common species occurring in a patchy range from Minnesota, east to Vermont, and south to Georgia. In Ontario and Canada it’s a Species of Special Concern due to recent declines caused primarily through habitat loss.
I’m not sure why this one was so sandy, although there was a sand pit a short distance down the road and I wondered whether she’d been in there to lay her eggs, although they’re supposed to prefer sites within 50m of the water. They come out on warm evenings or humid mornings from late May through July, and lay 10-15 eggs in a shallow nest dug by the female. Interestingly, while the eggs of the Snapping Turtle are perfectly round and resemble ping-pong balls, those of the Map Turtle are elliptical, longer along one axis. Along their longest dimension they average about 1.25 inches, or 3.3 cm.