I love turtles. Maybe it comes from my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle days? I also love June. The birds are chirping, the sun is out, and we get to enjoy warm weather after a cold winter. However, when I’m out biking or running in June, I encounter a lot of turtles and some of those turtles don’t make it, which is so sad. I started to wonder why and did some research. Here is what I learned.
Turtles are unmistakable in appearance. Their unique double-shelled armor distinguishes them from all other vertebrates. Maybe this is why I love them! In New York State, there are 11 species of freshwater or land turtles that are slow-growing, long-lived reptiles that can take 5 to 20 years to reach maturity and can live up to 70 to 80 years of age.
According to the NYS DEC, our native turtles are on the move in June seeking sandy areas to lay their eggs. This is why I see so many of them in June! Eggs incubate for about two to three months, with hatchlings beginning to emerge in August. However, sometimes the hatchlings overwinter in the nest, emerging after the spring thaw which isn’t good for the turtle population.
Although a turtle’s shell may protect it from many predators, it does not protect against the cars and trucks that crush many individual turtles each year, especially females searching for a nest site in the gravel along roadways. Combined with habitat fragmentation by roads and developments, this has led to significant declines of many turtle populations.
In New York alone, thousands of turtles are killed each year when they are struck by vehicles as they try to migrate to their nesting areas. It may take a turtle more than 10 years for it to reach breeding age, and they lay just one small clutch of eggs each year, so the loss of a breeding female can have a significant effect on the local population here in Central New York. It saddens me to report that all eleven species of land turtles that are native to New York are declining in numbers.
Please be on the lookout for turtles and slow down, especially on roads near rivers and marshy areas. We can all do our part in changing the world for the better! Let’s do what we can to protect these beautiful creatures for future generations to enjoy!!