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How Did the Turtle Cross the Road?

With your help

Has the world ever looked more beautiful? Probably, in some pristine past, but in the eye of this beholder, these late days of spring sparkle with perfection — and when the sun doesn’t come out they give us moody skies reflected in shady green.
    Who doesn’t want to be out in times like this?
    Somebody who does is the Eastern box turtle. That beloved little fellow with the high domed shell crawls out of the leafy cover of the forest floor this time of year to see the world. There’s a lot to see and do after months of hibernation. Like all of us, turtles have their ranges, within 250 yards of the nests where they were born, according to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. That’s home, where they forage, mate and lay their eggs. If a road cuts through it, turtles take it in stride.
    Unless we have the luck of a turtle visitor, a road is where we’re most likely to see them, carrying their camouflage-patterned shell on little clawed feet. Stop to check one out, and you’ll see how it got its name, for it snaps its shell closed like a box. Inside is a safe place to be, so box turtles have little to fear from predators — except us.
    Taking a box turtle home for a pet is a bad idea. You cannot manage for them so well as they can for themselves. Unless you do careful research into what to feed them and how to keep them, they’re likely to starve. Certainly they won’t be making any more baby turtles.
    The loss of just one adult box turtle from a local population each year could wipe out that population, for box turtle reproduction is a lengthy, tenuous and oftentimes inefficient process.
Females typically produce small clutches of only three or four eggs a year, and temperature extremes, heavy rainfall, fungus and predators frequently destroy the eggs.
    Even when an egg does hatch, the hatchling — again having to struggle against weather, predators and other hazards — has a slim chance of reaching adulthood.
It takes years to fully develop the stronger, protective adult shell and years of habitat familiarity to attain some degree of relative safety.
    A female who is able to survive her first several years, reaching reproductive maturity, can produce a few hundred eggs during her lifetime, which can be 75 to 100 years. From this lifetime of egg production, only two or three hatchlings may reach adulthood to sustain the population.
    When you see a turtle crossing the road, the right thing to do is help her or him across in the direction it was traveling. (You’ll know it’s a him if you get a glimpse of his eyes, as males have red eyes.)
    The other day, a woman driving in front of me stopped her SUV, hazards flashing, on Rt. 2 approaching Aris T. Allen Parkway and ran, arms flapping, to save a box turtle.
    If the turtle you hope to rescue does not snap into a box shell but remains exposed, pointy bill snarling at you, it’s likely an aptly named snapping turtle. Cautiously — very cautiously — pick it up by the shell, not the tail, but well back so it can’t turn its long flexible neck to bite the hand that rescues it.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher
email editor@bayweekly.com, www.sandraolivettimartin.com