Their numbers are declining
By Chloe Bennett
Like their environments, the turtles of New York are sturdy and diverse. Some—painted turtles or spotted turtles—wear vibrant markings atop their shells. Others, like the large snapping turtle found in ponds, rivers and lakes, don camouflage. They, along with the out-of-state turtles that have colonized the area, share several similarities with the North Country.
Besides their forest-green shells and resiliency, the turtles face a common threat: warming temperatures and habitat loss. Another human-made danger to the reptiles is street traffic.
“Unfortunately, in many places turtles may be met with anthropogenic barriers such as development and roadways,” Lisa Pipino, biologist for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said.
Leaving uninjured individuals in their natural habitats is an easy way to protect them, Pipino said. But should you see one near a road, you can move it away from the street in the direction it was walking.
Numbers statewide are unclear. But there are fewer than in the past, said Glenn Johnson, biologist and professor at the State University of New York at Potsdam.
“Turtles in general, in the world, are declining,” he said.
Land turtles do not migrate far, so climate change is not driving the animals north like some wildlife, Johnson said. But it could lead to a disproportionate ratio of female turtles to males. Warmer temperatures generally lead to more females, though some species, like wood turtles, do not carry the gene that skews the gender.
When rescuing a turtle, Adirondack wildlife rehabilitator Debbie Philp recommends, use caution because their shells are sensitive, and some—like snappers—are prone to aggression. Philp said it’s best to approach the reptiles from the back. “But sometimes you just grab a cardboard box or tub or something and you slide them in,” Philp said.
“If we can help them across the road and keep them from getting hit, that’s really important,” said Philp, who runs a reptile medical clinic at her home in Schroon Lake. “Their biology is pretty unique. While they may lay a lot of eggs at once, the chances of any of those babies surviving is really small. There’s this constant need to get as many adults healthy again and back into the population.”
She suggests calling North Country Wild Care, 518-964-6740, where hotline volunteers are ready to rescue all kinds of animals.
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