On my way home after a morning of turkey hunting the other day, traveling along a road in Hubbardton, I spotted a small, shiny object approaching the middle of the pavement.
I pulled over as far as I could, put on the hazard lights and stepped out of the truck for a closer inspection. It was a good-sized painted turtle. The chances of the critter making its way safely across a lightly-traveled back road were probably good, but I felt obliged not to leave the turtle’s fate to chances.
I grabbed the creature toward the back of its shell and it did what it is most inclined to do — it pulled its legs and head back inside the off-black shell. Not too many predators, I suspect, would have much luck in dining on the turtle but a vehicle moving at 35 mph would crush the critter to the pavement.
There were small bodies of water on both sides of the road and I guessed this turtle was a female. Based on the number of turtles I have seen, their rear ends buried in sand or soil to lay their eggs, during my mountain bike rides on the rail trail from Castleton to Poultney and back, I guessed this was a female on its way to laying its eggs.
I carried the little reptile to the shore of the pond on the right side, laid it down and it scurried away.
All of this was swimming around in my head when I happened to get a press release, by email, last week. It said:
“Vermont’s turtles are on the move this spring and the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department is asking for the public’s health in keeping them safe. Female turtles are looking for places to deposit their eggs, sometimes choosing to lay them along the shoulder of roads, which can bring them into the path of motor vehicles.”
Turtles, according to Luke Groff, a biologist with Fish & Wildlife, “are slow-moving animals, so they have a tough time making it safely across the road. Turtles grow slowly and live a long time, so losing a mature, breeding female is a huge loss to the turtle population.”
The department said, “Turtle nesting activity peaks this time of year and drivers are urged to keep an eye out for turtles on the road — especially when driving near ponds and wetlands.”
Probably my favorite turtle tale took place way back in the late-1970s. I was traveling down Route 30 at a place just off the swamps of Lake Bomoseen at the northern end, and stopped. In front of me were at least four or five cars and a man standing in the middle of the highway, and a very big, prehistoric-looking turtle appearing very angry. It looked like the guy was about to pick up a snapping turtle.
You never want to pick up a snapping turtle. There is a reason behind the word “snapping.” When a snapper latches onto something, he, or more likely she, doesn’t let go. I walked over, talked the guy out of picking it up, grabbed the big turtle by its long tail and gently dragged it off the road. When I glanced up at a few people standing around, they looked at me like I was Crocodile Dundee.
I happened upon a really big snapper one June day a few years ago, while biking along the rail trail, and captured what I believe to be one of the best photos I ever shot. He resembled something out of the Jurassic Period, so prehistoric was he or, again, probably a female about to lay her eggs.
There is a long stretch, just beside a good-sized pond, where I have stopped and stood there, with regret, for it is clear some predator, perhaps a fox or a raccoon, somehow smelled the place where a snapping turtle laid its eggs because, littered about a dug-up mess, was the broken shells of more than a dozen eggs. That is one of the many bad breaks, but good for the hungry predator, that take place in the world of nature.
Then again, maybe I am reading the evidence all wrong. Maybe the little guys hatched and made their way off. But it sure looked like some kind of digging took place.
In any event, it is clear that all turtles are vulnerable, especially along roads in June, to the crushing weight of automobiles. Slow down if you see a strange object on the road and, if possible, get your vehicle safely off the road and move the turtle.
Finally, Jim Andrews, with the Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas, is asking paddlers, boaters and anglers to report turtle sightings throughout Vermont to the Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas Web site at www.vtherbatlas.org. The reports will help conservationists keep track of the status of these species in order to act if populations appear to be in decline.
“Sending in a report is quick and easy,” Andrews said.
“Just snap a photo or two of the turtle and submit your observation via the website on an email. We’re constantly impressed with Vermonters’ commitment to conservation and willingness to help save turtles.”
But don’t, on any occasion, attempt to pick up a snapping turtle.
Contact Dennis Jensen at firstname.lastname@example.org.