Talking turtles in the Copper Country

In recent weeks you may have noticed an increase in turtle sightings either on roads or yards. In our area, we have a pretty good population of painted turtles and snapping turtles. Both of these turtles are mainly aquatic and rarely venture far from the water’s edge. Another much rarer variety in the area is the wood turtle. They also prefer to remain near water but may venture further from water and be more terrestrial.

The painted turtle is by far the most common turtle in the area. They are often seen basking on logs or the edges of water to warm in the sun. The colorful markings are what give them their name. There are splashes of yellow and green on their head and lines of orange or red along their legs and lower shell.

The shell of the painted turtle is smooth and streamlined which probably helps with their swimming.

The common snapping turtle is usually dark olive green in color. They are not as common as the painted turtle but can be seen floating in lakes, rivers, and marshes if you spend enough time in their habitat. The shell of the snapping turtle is not as smooth as that of the painted turtle but often much larger. Both of these turtles are omnivorous, meaning they will eat plant or animal. Aquatic vegetation makes up a significant portion of their diet but they also feed on insects, crayfish, tadpoles, and fish amongst other thing.

Early summer is when many of the resident female turtles venture away from the water in search of suitable nesting grounds. In some instances they will travel long distances, as far as a turtle is concerned, to do this, including being found nearly a mile from the nearest water. These turtles will eventually choose a location to dig a shallow hole, deposit their eggs, cover the eggs with the dirt that was removed, and return to their normal habitat. After the eggs are laid they are extremely susceptible to predation. Most likely the majority of eggs are consumed by raccoons or other predators within a few days of being laid.

The eggs that are left to incubate for two to three months may hatch although some species may overwinter before hatching.

One interesting note worth mentioning is that the sex of the turtle isn’t predetermined when the egg is laid; the temperature that the egg incubates determines the sex of the turtle. For most turtles the eggs that incubate at cooler temperatures are male and warmer temperatures are female.

Once the eggs hatch the young emerge and instinctively head for cover or shallow water to avoid predation. The young hatchlings are easy prey to many birds, fish, mammals, and even other turtles. As they grow older they become less susceptible to predators. The adult snapping turtle has virtually no natural predator.

Turtles take several years, over four for the painted turtle, to become adult and in condition to mate but they generally have a long lifespan. The species of turtles in our area have been known to live up to and over 40 years.