Monday, November 4, 2013

Giving Turtles a Head Start

By Alix Morris

Why did the turtle cross the road? The original theory for the declining Blanding’s turtle populations in urban areas was that adult turtles were run over by cars. When biologist Dr. Bryan Windmiller and his colleagues began tracking turtle populations in Massachusetts, they found this was not the case. Survivorship of adult turtles was actually quite high. Instead, they encountered a different problem – there were very few young turtles, and almost no hatchlings.

In the wild, under any conditions, turtle eggs and hatchlings are susceptible to a variety of predators, including chipmunks, herons, frogs, and raccoons. When Blanding’s turtles hatch, they have soft and flexible shells for the first year of their life, which offer little protection.

Moreover, hatchlings who are able to survive don’t eat from the time they hatch in the late summer or early fall until the following spring. As a result, they can lose weight during their first six months, further jeopardizing their potential to survive.

“If it’s possible to do something for these guys before they grow, we might be able to help them,” said Windmiller.

Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Concord, Massachusetts has the state’s third largest population of Blanding’s turtles. Yet over the past 40 years, the population of turtles has declined by more than 50%.

In 2003, Windmiller launched a trial method to protect the endangered turtles through the Great Meadows Blanding’s Turtle Conservation Program. Windmiller and his team of volunteers would collect the hatchlings and transfer them to schools, zoos, and aquariums across the state to monitor their feeding and care for nine months – a process Windmiller calls “headstarting.”

Through the headstarting program, the turtles are kept in warm water, which increases their appetite and helps them to grow. The students and researchers who monitor them feed them twice daily.

In captivity, the turtles grow at a rate four times what they would do in the wild. By the end of nine months, they are as large as four-year-old turtles with hard shells. They are then released back into their original habitat. Headstarting increases the survival rate of turtles by 20 times that of wild turtles.

Not all researchers agree with the headstarting program, however.

“Among biologists there’s a divide between people who more readily accept the idea that in the 21st century, if you’re interested in helping to maintain populations of rare and vulnerable species in parts of world where human impact is high, you need to intervene,” said Windmiller. “There are some biologists who are comfortable with that and some who are less comfortable.”

Windmiller hopes that as new and better data comes in from the headstarting project, they will be able to show that not only are they stopping the decline of turtle populations, they are actually reversing it.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Turtle Girl with a Mission

Chelmsford girl's mission is to protect area turtles
By Molly Loughman/
Chelmsford Independent

Chelmsford —

Increasing respect and knowledge for the world’s oldest creatures, World Turtle Day is coming to Chelmsford, thanks to one 11-year-old’s determination to bring awareness to the gentle animals facing extinction.

Parker Middle School fifth-grader Katarina Monnes will host a turtle awareness and children’s activities program at the Chelmsford Library on Thursday, May 23, from 3:30 to 5 p.m., as a part of her Girl Scouts Bronze Award project.

"They are interesting creatures. They have been around since before dinosaurs and have many unique characteristics. Did you know turtles never age? Some scientists are studying that. They can live to be over 100 years old, and only die from injury or disease, not old age," said Monnes, who has raised funds for several national turtle foundations.

The turtle hurtle

Monnes is now making it her mission to save local turtles, of which at least three of the six species are listed as threatened or endangered. In Chelmsford, there are box turtles, painted turtles, snapping turtles, bog turtles, red-eared slider turtles and wood turtles. The wood, box and bog turtles are endangered species.

"I hope people learn how to help, what we’re doing wrong to hurt the turtles, how we can stop that and more ways we can bring up the number of turtles," said Monnes, who participated in a Junior Vet program at the Loggerhead Marine Rescue Center in Juno Beach, Fla. last year.

Since embarking on her Bronze Award project, Monnes met with Alexxia Bell, a founder of the Turtle Rescue League, to gain information about the species and ways to help.

With the help of her Girl Scout Troop 66349, Monnes will paint 10 Turtle Crossing signs for the Turtle Rescue League, using wood donated by the Chelmsford Lumber Company. Some turtle awareness signs near wetlands around town were stolen. Monnes plans to post more, especially on Smith Street, which abuts a large wetland complex associated with River Meadow Brook. Monnes’ turtle sign paint and supply was donated by Chelmsford’s Sherwin Williams store.

To get to the other side

"Turtles are endangered because of development (loss of habitat), pollution and being hit by cars on roads and injured by mowers," said Monnes, who encourages other to post signs where turtles are being killed or injured.

Monnes and her troop will also aid the Chelmsford Conservation Commission by cleaning up local turtle nesting areas, including Crooked Spring Pond at the end of the month. In addition, they’ll conduct turtle spotting over the summer to check for injured or dead turtles.

"Be careful when mowing and avoid mowing fields in June and August, take shorter showers and restrict lawn watering (to conserve water and avoid draining our ponds), recycle and cover your trash and recycling bin," Monnes said.

On Thursday, Monnes, with the help of Cori Rose of CCC, will provide a poster identifying heavy turtle crossings streets in town and where people need to be especially cautious during May and June, which is turtle hatching season.

"In the spring, usually between May and June, the mature female turtles leaves the wetlands, streams and woods to travel to nesting sites to deposit their eggs. This is when single adults are likely to be lost to roadway mortality," said Rose, adding in August and September after hatching from the nest, the hatchling turtles start making their treacherous trip back to their natural habitats where they will spend most of their life.

"If people can be vigilant and slow down in known crossing or nesting areas, especially at dusk and dawn after a day of rain in May and June, individual mortality and population-level impact could be reduced," she said.

Monnes will create flyers for neighborhood distribution informing others to watch out for turtles and encourage people to help the turtles they find on the roads.

According to Rose, if a turtle is in the road, try to protect it while it crosses, if it is safe to do so. If a turtle needs assistance to cross a road, always take it across the road in the direction it was heading. Try to minimize handling as much as possible. Hatchlings can be relocated by bucket.

"Not only can adults learn about turtles, but even kids. I’m hoping kids will learn not to take them home for pets and learn about how you can help. I’m hoping to get at least 20 people," said Monnes, explaining turtles shouldn't be sold in pet stores.

For more information or how to help turtles, visit For lists of turtles in Mass. and to sign up to be a "turtle spotter" for the Turtle Atlas, visit

Turtles in the road
1. The intersection of Riverneck Road, Billerica Road (Route 129) and Turnpike Road
2. Concord Road and Boston Road (Route 4) in the vicinity of Harvey Road
3. Boston Road in the vicinity of Wildes Road and Roberts Street
4. Brick Kiln Road near Alpine Street and UPS Road
5. Riverneck Road near Canal Street and between Route 3 and the Lowell Connector
6. Smith Street, near Steadman Street
7. Near the intersection of Main Street and School Street
8. Littleton Road between Tadmuck Road and Garrison Road
9. Acton Road between Greenwood Road and Hart Road
10. Littleton Road (Route 110) between Enterprise Bank and Town Center
To monitor turtle crossings on your own with the help of online database reporting or to work with someone from the Conservation Commission, call 978-250-5248 or email


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Ignore, Rescue, or Obliterate that Turtle in the Road?

Traffic mortality is a significant threat to many species of turtles. There have been experiments -- both formal and informal -- on the human-animal relationship and intentional animal-automobile collisions.

Ignore, rescue, or obliterate that turtle in the road?

In an article, titled Road Kill and The New Science of Human-Animal Relationships, by Hal Herzog, Ph.D., in Pschology Today, he wrote; "The new science of human-animal interactions, anthrozoology, rests on a premis by the French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss. "Animals," he wrote, "are good to think with." His point was that we can learn a lot about human nature by studying how we think about and act toward other species." Dr. Herzog goes on to describe the experiment. "The experiment was simple and elegant. The researchers placed realistic rubber models of a turtle and a non-poisonous snake in the middle of a road and watched what happened. They also included a turtle-size Styrofoam cup and a thick line of grease the size of the snake for controls. During the trials, either an animal model or a control stimulus was put on the center line of a two-lane rural highway. The researchers recorded whether the drivers (a) ignored the stimulus, (b) swerved to intentionally hit it, or (c) pulled over to the side of road and rescued the model. (No one tried to rescue the plastic cup or the streak of grease.). They ran 500 trials for each of the four stimuli, and they also noted the sex of the drivers." You may read the entire article, with its results, HERE.

In the article below, College student's turtle project takes dark twist, the findings of the student's experiment is disturbing -- but not surprising. I did a roadkill study, a number of years back, for two years. And I found that most of the fatalities were to the side of the road -- the breakdown lane. And actually, one time, as I was about to approach a Painted Turtle to help it complete its journey across the street, a car came speeding along side and swirved into the breakdown lane and crushed it right before my eyes.

Unbeliveable, right? Read on.

College student's turtle project takes dark twist
By JEFFREY COLLINS | Associated Press –  Dec 27, 2012

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson University student Nathan Weaver set out to determine how to help turtles cross the road. He ended up getting a glimpse into the dark souls of some humans.

Weaver put a realistic rubber turtle in the middle of a lane on a busy road near campus. Then he got out of the way and watched over the next hour as seven drivers swerved and deliberately ran over the animal. Several more apparently tried to hit it but missed.

"I've heard of people and from friends who knew people that ran over turtles. But to see it out here like this was a bit shocking," said Weaver, a 22-year-old senior in Clemson's School of Agricultural, Forest and Environmental Sciences.

To seasoned researchers, the practice wasn't surprising.

The number of box turtles is in slow decline, and one big reason is that many wind up as roadkill while crossing the asphalt, a slow-and-steady trip that can take several minutes.

Sometimes humans feel a need to prove they are the dominant species on this planet by taking a two-ton metal vehicle and squishing a defenseless creature under the tires, said Hal Herzog, a Western Carolina University psychology professor.

"They aren't thinking, really. It is not something people think about. It just seems fun at the time," Herzog said. "It is the dark side of human nature."

Herzog asked a class of about 110 students getting ready to take a final whether they had intentionally run over a turtle, or been in a car with someone who did. Thirty-four students raised their hands, about two-thirds of them male, said Herzog, author of a book about humans' relationships with animals, called "Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat."

Weaver, who became interested in animals and conservation through the Boy Scouts and TV's "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin, wants to figure out the best way to get turtles safely across the road and keep the population from dwindling further.

Among the possible solutions: turtle underpasses or an education campaign aimed at teenagers on why drivers shouldn't mow turtles down.

The first time Weaver went out to collect data on turtles, he chose a spot down the road from a big apartment complex that caters to students. He counted 267 vehicles that passed by, seven of them intentionally hitting his rubber reptile.

He went back out about a week later, choosing a road in a more residential area. He followed the same procedure, putting the fake turtle in the middle of the lane, facing the far side of the road, as if it was early in its journey across. The second of the 50 cars to pass by that day swerved over the center line, its right tires pulverizing the plastic shell.

"Wow! That didn't take long," Weaver said.

Other cars during the hour missed the turtle. But right after his observation period was up, before Weaver could retrieve the model, another car moved to the right to hit the animal as he stood less than 20 feet away.

"One hit in 50 cars is pretty significant when you consider it might take a turtle 10 minutes to cross the road," Weaver said.

Running over turtles even has a place in Southern lore.

In South Carolina author Pat Conroy's semi-autobiographical novel "The Great Santini," a fighter-pilot father squishes turtles during a late-night drive when he thinks his wife and kids are asleep. His wife confronts him, saying: "It takes a mighty brave man to run over turtles."

The father denies it at first, then claims he hits them because they are a road hazard. "It's my only sport when I'm traveling," he says. "My only hobby."

That hobby has been costly to turtles.

It takes a turtle seven or eight years to become mature enough to reproduce, and in that time, it might make several trips across the road to get from one pond to another, looking for food or a place to lay eggs. A female turtle that lives 50 years might lay over 100 eggs, but just two or three are likely to survive to reproduce, said Weaver's professor, Rob Baldwin.

Snakes also get run over deliberately. Baldwin wishes that weren't the case, but he understands, considering the widespread fear and loathing of snakes. But why anyone would want to run over turtles is a mystery to the professor.

"They seem so helpless and cute," he said. "I want to stop and help them. My kids want to stop and help them. My wife will stop and help turtles no matter how much traffic there is on the road. I can't understand the idea why you would swerve to hit something so helpless as a turtle."

Source:  Yahoo! News

An informal experiment.

There are things that we can do to help. You can read more about what you can do to help in the article, "My View: Slow-moving turtles increasingly at risk in our fast-paced world." 

It all comes down to educating the public. Perhaps advocating for roadkill awareness to the DMV to introduce this into their Driver's Manual. Nowhere in their manual do they mention animals, (with the exception to horse-drawn vehicles), or roadkill. 

Citizen involvement in turtle conservation efforts can help ensure that turtles will continue to be around to perform their role in the environment, and for future generations to observe and enjoy as part of our natural heritage.