Nesting season a busy, dangerous time of year for Wisconsin's turtles
MADISON (WKOW) – It's a busy, and dangerous, time of year for Wisconsin's turtles.
Andrew Badje, a conservation biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said turtle nesting season runs from late May until approximately early August.
During nesting season, Badje said female turtles often leave their usual dwelling places in streams, ponds and rivers.
“If it's a female turtle, it's going to want to lay its eggs,” Badje said.
He said the trek to find a suitable nesting ground often takes turtles across busy roads as they search for the necessary sand or gravel-covered areas.
“In August and September you'll start seeing a smaller, reverse migration of juvenile turtles that have just hatched,” Badje said. “They'll be moving back to the ponds and wetlands.”
But Badje said Wisconsin's turtle population is dwindling – largely because many turtles are getting hit by cars as they attempt to cross roads.
He said turtles as a species take a long time to mature. A typical, female Blanding's Turtle can live 14 to 20 years before it's mature enough to lay eggs, Badje said.
“When these adults are crossing the road trying to lay eggs and getting hit by vehicles, you're slowly taking the adult turtles out of the population,” Badje said.
“The juvenile turtles don't survive as well as the adults,” he said. “So the best thing to do is help the adults and keep them in the population as long as we can.”
Badje said those who come across turtles attempting to cross a road can help them. He said most turtles are safe to pick up by the sides of their shells.
Brooke Lewis, the Wildlife Rehabilitation Supervisor at the Dane County Humane Society's Wildlife Rehab Center, said it's always important to watch out for traffic when stopping to help a turtle.
“We don't want anyone to get hit by a car while trying to save a turtle,” she said. “Sometimes pulling off the road and putting on your car's flashers will at least make people slow down as they're approaching, so hopefully they'll stop for the turtle and allow it to cross.”
Lewis added it's not advisable to pick up a snapping turtle or softshell turtle – both of which can bite. She said those who come across either softshells or snappers should call Dane County Animal Services at 608-267-1989 for help getting them off the road.
Badje said the easiest way to move a snapping turtle is to get it to bite down on a stick or golf club and then gently drag it across the road.
Lewis said the rehab center can take in all injured turtles.
“We deal with any broken shells, that's the most common thing,” she said. “They often have broken bones, even head trauma.”
“I'd say 99 percent of turtles that come in are hit by cars,” Lewis said.
She added the rehabilitation center saw a record number of turtles, roughly 130, brought in for treatment. That was up from 25 to 30 in 2012.
Lewis said the growing number of injured turtles was a trend at rehab centers around Wisconsin.
“We're not sure why the big increase,” she said.
Roughly 75 percent of the turtles brought into the rehab center in 2013 were eventually released back into the wild.
Lewis said the rehabilitation center is able to nurture turtles during what is often a long healing process.
“Their shells have a lot of sensation. Those injuries are very painful,” Lewis said. “So it's important to get them some pain control.”
She said the center can also help prevent injuries like broken shells from getting infected.
Lewis added even turtles that appear deceased should be brought in.
“Sometimes with females during nesting season, even if the female has passed on we're able to harvest her eggs and hatch out her eggs,” Lewis said. “To give those babies a chance.”
In an effort to raise awareness about turtle nesting season, Badje said the DNR has started the Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program. He said people around Wisconsin are encouraged to use the website to report areas where turtles are commonly found. Badje said the DNR then works to install signs and road stencils to make drivers aware of turtles in the roadway.
He said the program also can work with road crews to build fences around roadways and guide turtles to safer, alternate routes.
Badje said turtle sightings can also be reported in person at DNR offices.