The Turtles Are Coming! The Turtles Are Coming!

A baby turtle getting its first peek at the big dangerous world, as it emerges from its underground nest.

Submitted by Rod Steinacher

With the warm weather of the last week, along with some spring rains that have softened the ground, baby Painted Turtles are digging their way out of their underground nests, where they spent the past winter. Many of these nests are dug into the gravel embankments beside local roadways.

Painted Turtles, at least those living this far north in their range, hatch out of their eggs in the fall. They spend the winter underground as babies, somehow surviving the below zero temperatures, waiting for the warmth of spring to signal that it’s time for them to emerge from the nest. Unlike our local Snapping Turtles, this seems to be a better survival strategy for Painted Turtles than overwintering in local marshes and lakes.

As the baby Painted Turtles scurry to the safety of nearby water, they often travel across roads, where they are at extreme risk of being crushed by speeding cars. They are so tiny that they are hard to see; after all, they are only about the size of a loonie. Most local drivers are not expecting them to be on the roads at this time of year and don’t spot them.

If it is safe to do so, observant drivers can easily move the baby turtles well off the road, preferably in the direction they are already headed (which is usually, but not always, in the direction of the nearest water). It might not seem like much, but over their 20 to 30 year lifespan, they can go on to produce many, many more Painted Turtles!

Adult male and female Painted and Snapping Turtles will be seen on roads by the end of April, especially in, or near marshes. They can be moved, if it is safe for you to do so, off the road. It is not recommended to pick up the aptly named Snapping Turtles, as they will actively defend themselves. I use my winter car snow shovel to gently move these turtles in the direction they were already travelling.

Please keep an eye open for these local Species of Concern as they try to survive the danger of our local roadways.