GAYS MILLS - Turtles are one of my favorite critters. I think of them now because they show themselves at this time of year. These ancient animals put themselves at considerable risk getting out into our modern world. Turtles are one of the oldest reptiles and have been around for 220 million of years according to fossil records. Their hard shells, armor against predators who might attack them, doesn’t protect them very well crossing highways which is where they often show up.
Sidebar: I do help turtles cross the road, when I see them en route, and I hope you do too. Or at least avoid hitting them. They are easy to not hit, but I like to help them when I can. Every kind, except Snappers, that is. Those things are downright scary; I let them fend for themselves unless I have a long handled shovel along. To me, one of the most maddening things I see is a turtle that has been run over by a car. To use a reptilian metaphor, that is “lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut.” It has to be a deliberate deed and it is deplorable.
Wisconsin is home to 11 species of turtles (out of some 356 species worldwide). Ten Wisconsin species are aquatic and one, the Ornate Box Turtle, is land dwelling. The species are: Eastern Musk, Northern Map, Southern Map, Snapping, Spiny Softshell, and Painted, all of which are considered ‘common.’ The Blanding’s, False Map, and the Smooth Softshell turtles are listed as ‘special concern.’ The Ornate Box Turtle is an ‘endangered’ species and the Wood Turtle is labeled ‘threatened.’
Turtles in the Badger state are active from April until October. They emerge from underwater in lakes, rivers, ponds and wetlands where they have hibernated. They breed soon after emergence and then venture to an upland area to deposit and bury a clutch of soft-shelled eggs. One year, I followed a Snapping Turtle passing through the yard until she picked a nesting spot and dug a hole in a sandy, south facing bank. I stayed away and let her do her thing, carefully noting exactly where the nest was. An hour later, she was gone and I could not find where she’d dug - an amazing job of hiding the precious nest.
I did a little research about the incubation period for leathery, soft-shelled turtle eggs. I found that in some species the temperature determines to a large extent the gender of the hatching turtles: hotter temps produce more females, cooler temps, more males. The young turtles hatch out in between 70 and 120 days, dig their way out of the nest and head straight for water.
This yearly adventure of female turtles stands out against a quite low-key existence for them for the rest of the year. Please give them a break, use your brakes when you see them out on the road.
A couple other interesting facts I unearthed about turtles: a group of them is known as a bale. The old expression, “We’re off like a herd of turtles” is hereby debunked.
The other fact: Researchers have discovered that a turtle’s organs do not gradually breakdown and become less efficient over time, like most other animals. Livers, lungs and kidneys of a 100-year old turtle are indistinguishable from those of their younger counterparts. Genetic researchers are examining the turtle genome for longevity genes. And, that’s another very good reason to watch out for turtles.