A Rescue Mission

 text & photo : Norma A. Hubbard  (August 2018)

Recently I was returning home from a friend’s place after dark, but even in the darkness, I could still make out the shape of something different, out of place, on my driveway. At first, I thought it was a rock. I took out my cell phone to put some light on it. It was a turtle! There was blood on its shell. I gently poked it with a stick to see if it was alive. It moved; it was alive. Now the thing with turtles and crossing roads, is that we are suppose to help them go in the direction they were already heading. My turtle had been hit by a car and was pointing towards Hemmingford. I decided that it was probably searching for water and that I would take it to my pond as all the ditches were dry due to that hot spell we had. I was on a mission to save my turtle and ran to get a bucket.

I don’t know too much about turtles, however I think this one was a painted turtle (Chrysemys picta). I may be wrong; nonetheless, painted turtles are one of the common turtles in our area. I should have turned it over to verify since it is easier to identify that way, but I didn’t want to stress it any more as it was injured. Turtles are part of the reptile family and can live up to 100 years. Another turtle in our area are snapping turtles, which are larger. I remember the lesson my father taught me when I was a kid about why they are called snapping turtles. We found a large one by the river and my father put a stick in front of it. Snap! That turtle was quick. Hence, that is why I poked my little turtle with a stick when I saw it; I like my fingers. Everyone should always be cautious when approaching any wild animal, even if you think it is just a cute little turtle.

Painted turtles are rather small, only about 11-14 cm. Its top shell, the carapace (carapacho in Spanish for ‘shield’), is brown or olive colour. The bottom shell, the plastron (plastrón in Spanish for ‘breast-plate’), is more colourful. They have yellow and red stripes along the head and neck, with some red around the edge of the upper shell. They do not have teeth, they have horny plates that they use to eat prey. In general, painted turtles are not picky eaters. They begin life as carnivores and usually become herbivores. They will eat insects, fish, snails, tadpoles, frogs and aquatic plants, such as water lilies. I don’t think the frogs in the pond were impressed that I invited a turtle to their place! Turtles prefer to live in wet areas, like ponds, lakes, or creeks. Turtles breathe air and can stay under water for hours, or even days, at a time.

Painted turtles mate in the spring, usually in the water. A male will ‘court’ a female by caressing her neck. The female will lay eggs in south-facing nests so that the eggs will be warm. She will lay one egg at a time, and a nest can have 4 to 15 eggs in it. Once the female is finished laying, the eggs are covered, packed down, and left. Predators such as raccoons, skunks, coyote, or bears can dig up the eggs, or prey on young turtles. Incubation takes about 80 days, so some hatchlings may stay the winter in the nest and only emerge the following spring. Interesting fact, the sex of the turtle is decided by the temperature during incubation: cool temperatures produce males and warmer temperatures produce females. I would imagine with the hot summer we are having that there are going to be many females next year.

What happened to my turtle? I placed it in the bucket and walked it to my pond. It was dark, bugs biting me and coyotes howling. I thought that my turtle would survive, die of its injuries, or become coyote food … all better options than leaving it beside the road. I left it on the muddy edge of the pond. By the next morning, it had dug itself into the mud and it was still alive. The day after that, it had swam across the pond and was resting on the mud. By day three, I could not find my turtle. There was no sign of coyote or raccoon paw prints in the mud, so I am hopeful that my turtle is alive somewhere and it was a successful rescue mission. Please slow down on our roads and remember what makes it so special about living here is all the nature that shares our area.

Sources : Canadian Wildlife Federation [online] cwf-fcf.org/en/ resources/encyclopedias/fauna/amphibians-and-reptiles/turtles/ painted-turtle.html; The New Book of Knowledge (1980)