There are 328 species of turtles worldwide, and 57 of those species are found in the United States and Canada. The United States has more native turtles than any other country and 12 of those are indigenous to Connecticut!
Although, most often associated with warmer climates, four of the eight species of sea turtles that exist in the world today have been documented in Connecticut waters in Long Island Sound: The Atlantic Green Sea Turtle, the Atlantic Ridley Sea Turtle, the Leatherback Sea Turtle and the Loggerhead Sea Turtle. They appear in our area in June, and return to warmer waters as our weather changes. Unfortunately, all four of these sea turtles are considered threatened or endangered, and appear on the State’s “List of endangered, threatened and special concern species”.
In addition to the sea turtles, the Bog Turtle, the Eastern Box Turtle and the Wood Turtle are also of concern, and are on the same list.
The remaining indigenous turtles to Connecticut are the Common Musk Turtle, the Common Snapping Turtle, the Eastern Painted Turtle, the Northern Diamondback Terrapin Turtle and the Spotted Turtle.
Why are so many turtles considered endangered, threatened or of special concern?
I am sure most of you guessed it; humans represent the largest threat to turtles, although there are other contributing factors as well. The main causes of turtle population decline are loss of habitat, mortality due to roads, fishing and agricultural machinery mishaps, overharvesting, natural predators, disease and climate change.
What can you do to help save the turtles in our environment?
Well, the next time you are driving in a car and you see a turtle attempting to cross the road, slow and steady is most likely not the best option for success. If you can avoid hitting it, without impeding anyone’s safety that is great, but even better, if you are able to stop the car safely and assist the turtle by getting it across the road, in the direction it wants to go, that is fantastic!
In addition, if a turtle is hit by a car while crossing the road, it is sometimes possible to repair the shell and release it again, once it has recuperated. If the female turtle does not survive, certain specialized rehabbers can save the eggs, if there are any, and hatch the babies in captivity. When the little turtles emerge from the eggs, they can be safely released into a natural environment.
You can help with turtle preservation by getting the injured turtle to a Veterinarian who specializes in reptiles, or a state certified rehabber, as quickly as possible. Make sure to note exactly where you are when you remove the turtle from the road, because turtles utilize a kind of internal compass and it almost always best to release the turtle in the same location.
Why does the turtle want to cross the road?
It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but it isn’t. At this time of year, many female turtles are making their way to a place to lay their eggs. They are very particular because the baby turtles will have to over-winter in the area, whether they hatch, or remain in the egg until spring.
So, if you happen to come across a turtle laying eggs in an area, please remember that is important not to interact with the animal, or interfere with the nesting process – simply enjoy from a distance. The female turtle selected the particular location because she considered it desirable, and by allowing her to lay her eggs, you can help contribute to the survival of the turtle population. If you believe the location could result in harm to the eggs, contact your local turtle rehabber for advice.
It is important to know that hatching turtle eggs at home is not a good solution. Although turtle eggs do not require turning, they do require special care. In fact, the temperature that surrounds the egg can affect the sex of the hatchling. This can be critical for threatened and endangered species.
Finally, another way you can help with turtle preservation is to not release pet turtles into the environment. This can bring diseases to the indigenous turtles, and the new inhabitants (former pets) will be competing for food with the native species.
To find a rehabber in your area, visit The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) website for a listing of CT state rehabbers.