Monday, June 28, 2010

Cars vs. turtles results in mounting losses for the reptiles

The Republican file photo / Don Treeger
A snapping turtle takes its time crossing Route 19 in Brimfield.

Cars vs. turtles results in mounting losses for the reptiles

Alas, a turtle’s shell is no match for a 2-ton automobile, and this time of year the carnage on roadways across New England involving these reptiles can ravage their population.

Turtles, even those that live the rest of the year in water, travel the landscape in late spring and early summer looking for sites to lay eggs. And, that often means crossing roads - at a turtle’s pace.

“Probably there is no other wildlife species that is as vulnerable to road kill as turtles,” said Scott D. Jackson, a wildlife biologist at University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

“Not just individuals but populations are highly vulnerable because turtles tend to live a long time and need a long reproductive life to counter the high mortality (of their young),” Jackson said. “So to lose turtles prematurely, especially females, can be devastating to them.”

Massachusetts has 10 native turtle species that live on land or in fresh water, and five are listed under the state’s Endangered Species Act. There are also several sea turtles that visit the Bay State’s coast.

Turtles can live long lives, with some box turtles reaching 100. But, owing to predation of their young in the nest or in their first year, few young turtles reach adulthood.

Most of the state’s native turtles are less than 10 inches long. The glaring exception is the snapping turtle, which can reach 18 inches in length and weigh more than 40 pounds.

When one encounters a small turtle in the road, it should be lifted to the side of the road to which it was heading, said Marjorie W. Rines, a naturalist with the Massachusetts Audubon Society.

“People see a turtle going from a wet area to a dry area and think it’s making a mistake, so they move it back to the wet area,” she said. “But, they’re just making life harder for the poor turtle who now has to turn around and go back” to resume its search for a suitable nesting site on dry land.

Another mistake people make is to take the turtle out of the road and move it to the nearest pond, which may be quite a distance away. This, too, is a mistake, and the turtle may now be far from its familiar territory.

When a snapping turtle is encountered in a roadway, do not attempt to move it unless absolutely necessary, naturalists say.

Snapping turtles can move quicker than people think, they can extend their necks and reach farther with their heads than people think, and they can crush and even sever a finger when they bite.

“Try to direct traffic around it because they can be dangerous to handle. But be careful. You don’t want to put yourself at risk and you don’t want to put other drivers at risk,” Jackson said.

On its website, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife offers this advice if a snapping turtle must be moved.

“Use a broom and plastic tub (or box) to capture them, by sweeping them into the tub. An alternative method is to pick them up by grabbing the tail and then sliding one hand underneath the turtle to support the body. Lift it like a platter, steering with the tail. A snapping turtle can reach your hands if you lift it by the sides of its shell ... Do not lift them only by the tail; that can injure their spine.”

Source: MASS.Live
© 2010 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Preserving Mass wildlife: linking landscapes - Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Posted by Tim Dexter, MassDOT Environmental Analyst

Transportation infrastructure affects wildlife through direct mortality due to vehicle collisions, fragmenting and isolating habitats, and by altering natural habitats. In addition, roadway usage by wildlife causes accidents, which can result in property damage and personal injury. To address these issues, the MassDOT Highway Division has teamed up with MassWildlife, UMass Amherst, and the Vernal Pool Association to create ‘Linking Landscapes’, a long-term and multifaceted effort to minimize the impact of the existing road network on wildlife, while improving highway safety.

The Linking Landscapes research framework is simple: team up with citizen scientists to gather information on wildlife roadway mortality hotspots, to inform long term planning decisions in the context of transportation infrastructure upgrades. A critical component to the research is a user friendly online mapping interface where the general public, state highway personnel and law enforcement can document site specific wildlife mortality observations.

I was pleased to lead a discussion about turtle mortality with representatives from communities in the watersheds of the Sudbury, Assabet, Concord and Shawsheen Rivers, above. My thanks to Sylvia Willard of the Carlisle Conservation Commission for the photo.

How can you get involved? Three statewide citizen science research efforts are underway:

The Wildlife Roadway Mortality Database: Document your observations of wildlife deceased due to wildlife vehicle collisions.

The Vernal Pool Salamander Migration Study: During early spring rain events, mole salamanders migrate from their upland hibernating habitat to vernal pools to reproduce. Often, hibernating habitat and vernal pools are separated by roadways, which causes roadway mortality. Be on the look out for large ‘over the road’ salamander migrations in early spring, and record the locations within the Amphibian Roadway Crossing Database.

The Turtle Roadway Mortality Study: Turtles have existed for millions of years, but roadways are threatening the survival of local populations. Turtles in Massachusetts often cross roadways late spring to early fall. Keep your eyes peeled as you drive by wetland areas, and record your observations of turtle roadway mortality. The information gathered will be used to coordinate local turtle conservation efforts.

Get involved and find more information on the web.

Source: Article Ant

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Be on the watch for turtles this month

Posted Jun 01, 2010 @ 10:00 AM

Over the next month or so, from the end of May until the end of June, female turtles will leave their watery hangouts and trek overland in search of a spot to lay their eggs.

Massachusetts has 10 species of native turtles -- painted, snapping, musk, red-bellied, bog, spotted, Blanding's, wood, box and diamondback terrapins (and one exotic species, the red-eared slider). Except for the box turtle, which is a terrestrial or land turtle, and the diamondback terrapin, which lives in salt marshes, all of our turtles live in fresh water environments.

From diminutive 4-inch-long musk turtles to 60-pound snapping turtles, if you live or work near a pond, stream, swamp or other wetland, you're likely to see one of these reptiles crossing a road or parking lot, or digging a nest hole in an open field or vacant lot, or even in your yard.

Turtle nests consist of a hole in the ground, which female turtles dig with their hind feet. They tend to choose patches of bare soil, which is easy to dig in, in open areas like fields or yards where the nests will get plenty of sunlight to incubate the eggs. For example, a conservation officer for a town north of Boston told me recently that Blanding's turtles, which are a threatened species in Massachusetts, like to nest in the sandy soil on the town's soccer field. During nesting season the part of the soccer field where the turtles dig their nests has to be cordoned off until the baby turtles hatch in late August and early September.

Smaller turtles, like bog or musk turtles, may only lay four or five eggs. Bigger turtles, like Blanding's or snapping turtles, may lay a dozen or more. After she's finished laying her eggs, the female turtle fills in the nest hole and covers the eggs by pushing the loose soil she's excavated back into the hole with her hind feet. The eggs usually hatch anywhere from two to three months after being laid.

Interestingly, the sex of the hatchlings is determined by temperature, with warmer soil temperatures typically producing female offspring and cooler soil temp's producing male offspring, although this can vary depending on the species.

Threats to turtle eggs include mammals like raccoons, skunks, opossums and rats, which will dig up the nests and eat the eggs, according to Kerry Muldoon, Conservation Commission biologist for the city of New Bedford. Muldoon adds that even plants can pose a threat to turtle eggs. She says the roots of beach grass and saltmarsh cordgrass can penetrate and destroy the eggs of diamondback terrapins, which she studied while in graduate school. Hatchling turtles likewise fall prey to a variety of animals including mammals, birds and even ants.

Many adult turtles are hit by cars as they cross roads in search of nest sites or when they attempt to nest in open areas along the edges of roads. Turtles also sometimes nest in the open, sandy and gravelly soil next to railroad tracks where they may be hit by trains or become trapped between the rails. Biologist Tim Beaulieu says he found about a dozen or more turtle nests along a 100-foot section of railroad track behind a small pond while conducting a biology survey for reptiles and amphibians in a suburban area west of Boston a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, Beaulieu said, all the nests had been destroyed by predators. Additionally, Beaulieu said he found the remains of several adult painted and snapping turtles trapped between the rails.

Turtle eggs and hatchlings have a high mortality rate and only a small percentage of turtles ever reach adulthood. Because of this low survival rate, says the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife website on turtles, "...a turtle must live for many years and reproduce many times in order to replace themselves in their population. Losing any adult turtles, and particularly adult females, is a serious problem that can tragically lead to the eventual local extinction of a population."

The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife's Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program is working with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation on a new program called the Turtle Roadkill Monitoring Project to locate turtle roadkill hotspots. Its goal is to identify and monitor problem road crossing sites for turtles. The program is asking for public's help to identify potential turtle roadkill hotspots in your town, working to confirm the spots with project coordinators, then help conduct road surveys at these sites during designated time periods in May and June.

In addition to roadkill hotspots, Mass. Fisheries and Wildlife and the Turtle Conservation Project are asking the public to submit information on locations where multiple turtles nest, as well as to report sightings of individual turtles.

If you should find a female turtle nesting in your yard, Mass. Fisheries and Wildlife says the best thing to do is to keep people and animals away from the area until she's done nesting, which can take several hours. Also, remember that turtles can deliver a painful bite and, in the case of large snapping turtles, can inflict serious wounds. Half a dozen of Massachusetts' native turtle species are state listed as endangered, threatened, or species of special concern. Other than snapping, painted and musk turtles, it is illegal to capture and keep wild turtles as pets in Massachusetts. It's also important never to release store-bought turtles into the wild, as they may transmit diseases to wild turtle populations.

Turtles have been around since before the time of the dinosaurs and they play an important role in the environment as predators, herbivores and prey.

"Aquatic turtles often represent a very high proportion of animal biomass in wetlands they occupy, therefore making them very important in wetland food webs," says Dr. Hal Avery, a biology professor and turtle researcher at Drexel University in Philadelphia. "Turtles occupy many trophic levels (an organism's feeding position in a food web)," says Avery, "from primary consumers (herbivores) to top carnivores,"

Turtles also play an important role in limiting herbivore populations, according to Avery, which helps maintain the stability of entire ecosystems and ecological communities. "For example," says Avery, "without diamondback terrapins, Spartina (the dominant salt marsh plant) salt marshes would be overgrazed and lost to mollusc grazers."

Avery, his colleague professor Jim Spotila and other researchers from Drexel University, in conjunction with volunteers coordinated through the nonprofit organization Earthwatch, have been conducting a long-term research project at New Jersey's Barnegat Bay for several years now, studying the ecology of diamondback terrapins and the effects of humans on these turtles. The researchers are discovering that commercial fishing, shoreline development, pollution, the hazards of roads and motor vehicles, and even boat noise all take their toll on turtles.

"Because they occupy some of the most biologically diverse and productive ecosystems in the world," says Avery, "and because they utilize aquatic and terrestrial habitats within these ecosystems, aquatic turtles are paramount indicators of ecosystem function, making them important model organisms to study in conservation biology."

Unfortunately many species of turtles are threatened due to habitat destruction, pollution, roads and other hazards. But research being carried out by scientists, as well as programs like those being conducted by Mass. Fisheries and Wildlife, and citizen involvement in turtle conservation efforts, can help ensure that turtles will continue to be around to play their important roles in the environment, and for future generations to observe and enjoy as part of our natural heritage.

Don Lyman is an adjunct instructor in the Biology Department at Merrimack College in North Andover.

Find out more:

Massachusetts Turtle Roadkill Monitoring Project:

Turtle Conservation Project:

Earthwatch Barnegat Bay Diamondback Terrapin Project:

Copyright 2010 The Daily News Tribune. Some rights reserved

Caution: Turtles Crossing

The weather has been so good that a mother snapping turtle came out and laid dozens of eggs in the parking lot of the McDonald’s on West Housatonic Street in Pittsfield. (Randy Stracuzzi / Special to The Eagle)

Caution: Turtles crossing
Mating season is slow and steady, snarling local traffic
By Scott Stafford, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Tuesday June 1, 2010

Listen up, Berkshire County drivers: Slow down and keep your eyes on the road -- it's turtle time again.

Mating season for local turtles is upon us, so the females are headed for their ancestral nesting grounds to lay eggs, as they do around this time every year.

Unfortunately, that means many of them will be crossing Berkshire roadways.

They tend to not look both ways. They don't cross at the lights. And they take their sweet time.

By now, many of them have met a fateful end under the tires of vehicles. But many have been lucky enough to cross in front of caring drivers who actually stop and direct traffic around them, or help them to the other side of the road safely.

"I just wish people would take more care, slow down and watch out for the turtles," said Pamela Berkeley, a Sheffield resident. "Some of these turtles could be 100 years old or more."

Thom Smith, a retired Berkshire Museum natural science curator and Berkshire Eagle columnist, said that he has received about a dozen e-mails in the last week from people expressing concern about turtles crossing the road.

"June is the peak time for this," Smith said. "They're looking to find sandy soil to lay their eggs."

The road-crossing turtles around here are mostly snapping turtles or painted turtles.

The snapping turtles are more dangerous and can grow to about the size of a car tire. But either species will snap at any perceived threat.

Smith said the local population of the two species are not in decline despite their asphalt adventures.

The best course of action when someone sees a turtle strolling through traffic is to stop the car, put on the emergency blinkers, and pick up the turtle by the back of its shell and take it to the side of the road it was headed toward, Smith said.

He cautioned against picking up a turtle by the tail as it tends to make the turtle a bit cranky and it leaves the carrier vulnerable to the dreaded turtle bite.

For the heavier turtles, a stick can be used to push the turtle along by the shell. Caution is advised either way.

"They can get aggressive when they are out of the water seeking a place to lay eggs," Smith said.

Last week, workers and customers at McDonald's on West Housatonic Street shared a turtle adventure.

A big snapping turtle made an early morning cruise across the drive-through lane. Employees came out of the store and directed traffic around the slow-moving female while she made her way around the restaurant and under the shrubbery next to the parking lot.

Employees and onlookers blocked off the parking spaces adjacent to the turtle to give her a safety zone while she dug into the dirt and laid her eggs. Two hours later she was gone.

"A lot of cars come driving through here, so we wanted to protect her," said McDonald's employee Michelle McKeon. "I would never want a poor defenseless turtle to die for no reason. It's just not fair."

For more information: or (413) 496-6241.