Why did the turtle cross the road? To get to the other side, of course! Missouri and Kansas are home to fewer than 18 turtle species, and early June is when they begin mating.
Unlike frogs and other amphibians that lay their eggs in water, turtles are reptiles and lay their eggs on land. Also, like many females in the animal world, female turtles are particular where they nest, lay, and bury their eggs and may travel some distance before they find the perfect spot. This requires turtles to cross roads, streets and highways, not only to find the perfect nesting location, but also to find a mate.
Turtles are one of the Earth’s oldest creatures and have been around for millions of years. According to www.sciencedaily.com, “A team of scientists has reconstructed a detailed ‘tree of life’ for turtles. … Scientists place turtles in the newly named group ‘Archelosauria’ with their closest relatives: birds, crocodiles, and dinosaurs.”
Surely a group of animals around since dinosaurs deserve some respect. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, “Although turtles have been around for millions of years, they are losing ground to farms, cities, and mines, which have replaced their habitat -- swamps, marshes, and forests. Thoughtless poaching and careless driving adds more pressure to these ancient, odd-looking, and important creatures.”
I am shocked when I actually see people drive out of their way to run over a turtle. It is beyond belief that anyone would be so cruel as to purposefully kill another living being!
The Missouri of Conservation also writes, “Turtles are beneficial scavengers. They eat water plants, dead animals, snails, aquatic insects and crayfish. Swimmers should not fear turtle [sic]. They won’t bite unless picked up.”
Many gardeners will tell you that box turtles, which are land-dwelling turtles, are welcome to their gardens. They favorite meals are slugs, snails and other animals and insects that are detrimental to flower and vegetable gardens.
So, what can we do to help the turtles in our area?
Be careful when you drive, especially in June through September when turtles are mating, nesting and dispersing.
Do not collect turtles for pets. Turtles must eat a lot of animals, insects and vegetative material to build up the resources needed for hibernation. Most well-intentioned people have no idea what turtles really need and the captured turtle dies by fall, or in the winter.
Do not try to move turtles long distances. They know their immediate area (which may be an acre or two), but if you move them out of their known locale that’s when they can get into trouble.
Do not shoot at turtles. It’s illegal, and it pressures an already stressed group of animals.
Create habitat around your home, which includes wooded and marshy areas.
The next time you’re out driving, I hope you avoid turtles. If it is safe for you to do so, pull over and move the turtle to the side of the road in which he is traveling. Remember, all that turtle is trying to do is to get to the other side!
Reach Lynn Youngblood at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net.