Saturday, May 30, 2009

Turtle Movements

Srini, the lawnmower in the family, is always the one to find the turtles in the yard. He finds the young ones emerging from their over-wintering nest in spring as they crawl across the lawn toward the wetland. He discovers the adults right about now as they search the uplands for a nest site. Today he found this female painted turtle.

Painted turtle, Chrysemys picta


Although common, the painted turtle is quite beautiful. It is referred to as the "sun turtle," as it is often seen basking on logs. They slip into the water quickly, so a stealth approach to a wetland is wise. Seeing one on land up close is a treat and a chance to admire its markings. The carapace (upper shell) is oval, smooth, and dark. The yellow head and neck stripes and the yellow spot behind the eye are visible in the photo below. The spotted and Blanding's turtles, which are more rare, both have yellow spots on their carapace.

Scutes are the bony plates or scales that make up the turtle shell. In the painted turtle the marginal scutes, along the edge of the shell, have distinct red markings above and below. A young painted turtle has an orange or salmon-colored plastron (lower shell), which changes to pale yellow with black splotches in the adult.

As I picked her up to check her underside - the plastron -- she squirted a lot of water. This likely means that she is on her way to lay eggs, since they release lots of water as they dig their nests.

Seven species of turtles are native to New Hampshire. To protect these turtles and all native reptiles and amphibians, the state has adopted rules and regulations that are nicely described here. Generally the rule is to leave things where they are, do not collect or move animals, and do not release pets into the wild. Helping turtles across the road is beneficial, moving them off to the roadside in the direction that they were traveling. Do not transport them to a wetland, since the turtle knows where it is going.

June is the time to watch for turtles on roads and with a little assist help them across.

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