Saturday, September 12, 2015

Worker's snap decision saves turtle in Billerica

By Rick Sobey,

BILLERICA -- Instead of the chicken crossing the road, why does the turtle cross the road?

Actually, the more appropriate question on Wednesday in Billerica was: Who can help a very large snapping turtle cross the road?

Fred Baker of the Billerica Highway Department was the one to save the day, helping the snapping turtle get across Oak Street.

When he saw the turtle, Baker grabbed a neighbor's recycling bin. The heavy-equipment operator placed the turtle in the container and helped it across the street. He survived getting bit by the snapper, but it was close, said Highway Superintendent Ed Tierney.

Baker later told Tierney that he "did what anyone would do."

With many turtles native to Massachusetts labeled "endangered" and "threatened," it's more important than ever to save them, turtle enthusiasts say. For instance, the Groton Turtle Conservation tries to reduce the high injury and mortality rate of Groton's turtles on roads.

This wasn't the first Billerica Highway Department animal encounter. Last week, the department contacted Animal Control because a cat was stuck up in a tree. Animal Control called the Animal Rescue League of Boston, which came out to save the cat.

"We do come upon these once in a while," Tierney said, adding that employees and police once helped save six ducklings in a catch basin at the corner of Boston and Lasallette roads.

A very large snapping turtle was having a tough time getting across Oak Street in Billerica on Wednesday. He got some help from the Highway Department employee Fred who put him in a container and helped him across the street. SUN/JOHN LOVE

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

New England Aquarium to open new sea turtle hospital exhibit

BOSTON (AP) — The New England Aquarium is opening a new exhibit next week that highlights how it takes care of injured sea turtles.

Visitors to the interactive exhibit that opens Wednesday can learn how injured and endangered turtles are diagnosed, treated, rehabilitated, and then released back into the wild.

Visitors will hear how cold-stunned turtles’ hearts beat slower than healthy turtles after they wash ashore from cold ocean waters. They can see how turtles undergo CT scans, surgery, blood work, X-rays, and treatments with antibiotics, nutrients, and nebulizers. There are simulated respiratory, skeletal, and digestive diagnostic tests that visitors get a chance to try out themselves.

The aquarium last fall took care of more than 700 sea turtles that had stranded in the region.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Freshwater turtles find Cape safe haven

This box turtle isn't afraid to cross a lawn in Orleans. Staff photo by Rich Eldred

By Rich Eldred

It’s time for a new press agent.

Lets face it. Our terrestrial based Testudines, that’s the order of shelled reptiles in zoological speak, or turtles for the layman, dominate Cape Cod from tip to tip. Yet it’s the saltwater variety that get all the press. And why? Because the wash up on our shores in a state of cold-stunned disbelief. Even the diamondback terrapin, which spends the winter safely hibernating in the mud of Wellfleet Bay, has books, such as Barbara Brennessel’s "Diamonds in the Marsh," penned about it.

But turtles of the freshwater persuasion get little respect.

Box turtles are no longer as common as they once were throughout southern New England, they don’t get along well with roads or manicured backyards. But southeastern Massachusetts is a population center and the numbers on parts of Cape Cod, such as the Orleans/Chatham area, are quite high.

Box turtles are the most terrestrial of all our turtles, they don’t even breed in the water. They’ll mate in the spring, when they meet beneath the powerlines, and sometimes in the summer, but the eggs must be laid in late spring, for it takes close to 90 days for them to hatch. Box turtles can actually lay eggs up to four years after mating.

They’ll dig a false nest or two before creating a real one. Nest predators plague all turtles; everything from raccoons and skunks to ants and plant roots.

Unlike other turtles the box turtle's lower carapace is hinged and it can shut its shell tight. So once a turtle reaches sufficient size it is pretty immune from predators and they are famously long-lived. Turtles 80 years of age have been documented and younger turtles, up to about age 15, can be aged by looking at the concentric growth rings on the scales of the lower shell, the plastron.

Roads are the greatest peril to the box turtle. Fortunately, most of their walking around is done just after dawn and in the summer heat they retreat to little coves or self-made shelters under blueberry bushes and leaves. They are more active during rainy weather but tend to have very limited home ranges, sometimes less than a football field in size.

Spotted turtles, with bright yellow spots on each scale of the shell, are not nearly as common as they once were on Cape Cod. They are highly aquatic and prefer swampy acidic cranberry bogs, small streams and weedy ponds to open lakes. The decline in wild cranberry bogs has probably pushed their numbers down to the point they’re now considered rare. They’re easiest to find in the spring when they’re looking for a mate, the dark waters are clear and the spots shine like beacons. Look for them in the ditches or canals of cranberry bogs, or in the flooded wild bogs in the dunes.

Spotted turtles don’t lay a lot of eggs, just three or four, and the use of pesticides in cranberry bogs, and their favored diet of insects, also limits their population.

Snapping turtles are the largest and fiercest freshwater turtles, the record is an 80-pounder and they can reportedly snap a broom handle with one bite. But if you aren’t a duck or a fish you aren’t in much danger if you see one in the water. They’re much more snappy when caught out of the water – note that their shells leave much of their body exposed compared to the box turtle. To compensate for relatively meager shells, the snapping turtle has a long neck that can reach back to its heels.
They are the only edible freshwater turtles, and at one time people would keep one in a barrel out back, fattening it with food scraps in preparation for turtle soup. They’ll range far from water to lay up to 80 eggs in a nest, and those nest are frequently dug out soon after. Never-the-less females after return year after year to the same nesting site.

Similar to snapping turtles but much smaller is the stinkpot or musk turtle. These are probably the least observed turtles on Cape Cod, but they aren’t uncommon. Unlike painted turtles they rarely bask, and seldom wander far from water. The 4-to 6-inch turtles look like oversized olive pits, their shells covered with algae, as the prowl the sandy bottom of large open ponds. They’re active at dusk and active at dawn.

They get their unflattering common name because they exude a stinky, foul-smelling musk when handled. Their shells are also relatively small, so they possess long necks, sharp jaws and a feisty disposition. You can expect them in almost any pond of size but they do like some vegetative cover.

Painted turtles, with their black carapaces and bright yellow plastrons are our most common and visible turtles. There are hundreds in Spring Brook at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary and they love to bask on low hanging branches, rocks and on the knotty roots of wetland shrubs, plopping into the water when visitors walk by. They’ll even bask stacked up like boxes, you wonder how the lower turtle gets any sun. They need ultra-violet light to metabolize calcium to build their shells.

They’re struck with wanderlust and unfortunately are frequently run over by cars as they stroll from pond to pond. While other turtles hibernate the winter away, some painted turtles swim beneath the ice. They’ll begin basking as early as a warm march afternoon.

Their diet is split between plants and small fish, frogs etc.

The closely related Plymouth redbelly turtle is endangered in the state (just 300 left) and while it may have once occurred on Cape Cod is now restricted to large ponds in Plymouth County on the other side of the canal. Look for it in the Miles Standish State Forest in Plymouth. The turtle was once considered a separate species but is now considered a disjunct population of the red-bellied cooter, which ranges from New Jersey to Carolina.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Turtles, cute and in danger

Watch for them as they cross our roads

By Anne O'Connor,

GROTON -- The group of women inside UNION Coffee Roaster in Ayer did not seem like they were out to change the world as they sipped warm beverages and chatted.

But, they take a saying by Margaret Mead to heart. "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Like the anthropologist who studied disappearing cultures in the 20th century, these woman study disappearing species. Specifically, they are studying and trying to save local turtles.

Jennifer Petit is a long-term member of the Townsend Conservation Commission.

Darcy Donald moved to Groton a few years ago and was horrified when she saw so many dead turtles along the road.

They, along with Joan Caruso, are part of Groton Turtle Conservation. After a meeting with members of Massachusetts Fish and Wildlife, they took time to talk turtles: Which ones are endangered, what to do about it and how cute they are.

Identifying turtles and where they live and breed is an important first step in protecting them. Some turtles are relatively common, like snapping turtles. Others, like painted turtles, are harder to find.

Blanding's turtles are one of the most rarely found and on the endangered species list. Shaped like a World War I helmet, these turtles with yellow under their chins do not breed until they are between 15 and 17 years old. They have nesting grounds in this area.

Spotted turtles, another species, are rare, they said, but some have been seen recently. "We need to get them documented," Petit said.

"Take a photo and send it to us," Donald said in a call for help from local residents. Be sure to get the underneath, called the plastron, if possible. The pattern on the belly of each turtle is unique, she said, like a person's fingerprints.

Injured turtles can be helped. If a turtle's shell is damaged, take it to the Tufts Wildlife Clinic in Grafton or to Carl Flinkstrom at the Lunenburg Veterinary Hospital for help.

They will ask for a donation, but do not charge to help wildlife, Petit said.

Turtles feel pain just like humans, Caruso said. Their nerves are part of their upper shell. It can take up to two years for an injured turtle to recover and be released into the wild.

"They have an incredible will to survive," Donald said.

Sometimes, even dead turtles have offspring that live. Eggs can be harvested from the body of a dead female. Last year, a rehabilitator hatched 83 of 85 eggs that were acquired this way, they said.

GTC works with a wildlife rehabilitator but did not want to release the name. In addition to the fear of burglars looking for veterinarian drugs, a black market for turtles exists. They are worth lots of money in certain cultures and thieves have been known to raid breeding areas.

"It's always our worry that after we do all this work that someone will just come in and scoop them," Petit said.

"And eat them," Caruso said.

Preventing turtle injuries is high on the list of priorities for these advocates. Turtles lay their eggs in wetlands and travel between bodies of water.

In their travels, they cross the roads. Many are crushed by passing vehicles.

After areas of high turtle mortality have been identified, there are some steps to take to help.

One of the simplest is signage. GTC is working with Tom Delaney, the Department of Public Works director in Groton, to install turtle crossing signs.

So far, with the help of the Girl Scouts, they have raised enough money for 13 permanent signs and posts, Donald said.

They had a few other suggestions for people wanting to help turtles. If one is crossing the road, bring it to the side it was heading for. Do not remove a turtle from its immediate environment; it will spend the rest of its life trying to get home.

Talking to people about turtles is part of their outreach plan. People were enthralled with what they had to say during Grotonfest last year.

"Joan and I, for eight hours, we stood up," talking about turtles, Donald said. "We didn't have time to drink our water or eat our lunch."

"It's so much fun," Petit said.

In their eyes, turtles have a high cuteness factor. They passed around cell phones with photos of hatchlings, oohing and aahing.

"They're the cutest things on earth," Petit said.

They expressed great sympathy for snapping turtles, a beast small children are warned to avoid. Like the name suggests, they snap at things.

There is a reason for that. The protective covering on the bottom of the animal is small, leaving part of the bottom of the animal exposed, Petit said. When they are on land, they are vicious.

"They have to be able to protect themselves," she said. "If you look at their little tummies there's all this meat."

They will leave you alone in the water, she said. Unless those waggling fingers look a bit too much like worms.

As hatchlings, the feared snappers are vulnerable to the smallest carnivores. "Chipmunks are the worst predators," Petit said.

For drivers, there are two times of year to watch for those turtle crossing signs. Mother turtles will begin to move to egg-laying ground in early to mid-May. In the fall, the hatchlings will leave the grounds, crossing the road the other way, to get to their adult habitat.

The Groton Turtle Conservation can be found online at or email

Follow Anne O'Connor on Twitter and Tout @a1oconnor.


Friday, April 24, 2015

'Protecting turtles and other wildlife on roadways'

Hundreds of animals die on Massachusetts roadways each year.

The "Linking Landscapes" project, a joint effort of Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, is an effort to address and intervene, where possible, in the deadly intersection between wildlife and roads.

The Nashua River Watershed Association and Groton Turtle Conservation are co-sponsoring a free presentation about the project by David Paulson from NHESP on Wednesday, April 29, from 7-9 p.m. at the NRWA River Resource Center, 592 Main St., Groton.

The public is invited to learn more about this project, and those interested in volunteering to help with monitoring turtle crossings can receive training the same evening.

David will talk about the cooperative effort to identify areas on roadways with high levels of wildlife crossings and mortalities. Using over 350 citizen volunteers' data, the two agencies work to improve methods of road construction and conservation to protect wildlife.

This presentation will have a special focus on turtles of Massachusetts, including identification and natural history. Turtles have existed for millions of years, but roadways are threatening the survival of local populations. Turtles often cross roadways late spring to early fall and are vulnerable to car collisions. Turtle enthusiasts and conservation organizations are encouraged to act as citizen scientists by joining state wildlife and transportation personnel in collecting data for the Turtle Roadway Mortality Monitoring Program.

David will share the results from the first year of data collection. Following his talk, anyone who is interested in volunteering can remain for training with David. The information gathered through this volunteer effort will be used to coordinate local turtle conservation efforts.

Pre-registration is not required, but appreciated for planning purposes. To pre-register, contact Pam Gilfillan, NRWA development associate, at 978-448-0299, or email

Nashoba Publishing
POSTED:   04/24/2015