It’s that time of the year when turtles lay their eggs. For this they seek a good gravelly place to dig a hole where they deposit their eggs and cover them over until they hatch. They will go on long marches to find just the right place. Both sexes will go in search of new territory or another wetland.
I’m used to seeing lots of turtles on this journey, especially snapping turtles. I live on the edge of a marsh where these turtles imitate underwater rocks and then snatch their unsuspecting prey as it swims by. At nesting time, these turtles leave the water, make the long, laborious climb up the treed hill and into the fields. To get to the fields, they must cross the road and that’s where they are seen making their slow, purposeful way across.
Far too many do not survive the trip. They are hit either accidentally or deliberately for there are still drivers who enjoy targeting turtles with their vehicles. There is a whole other cadre of folks who will stop to help a turtle across, making sure it is in the direction they turtle was walking. Turtles set back on the wrong side of the road will just start across again.
Some turtles love the gravel road shoulders and will dig their nests right there. Should the nest manage to escape the attentions of skunks and raccoons, the hatching babies have much reduced chances of making it across the road toward the marsh alive.
In the past few years, I have seen fewer and fewer turtles. Last year only one. This year, so far, only one, a large snapping turtle heading for the pond. This dearth of turtles is most disturbing for it is mostly the females that make the march. Road deaths have so drastically reduced the females that the ratio of females to males in some species is one female for every twelve males.
Turtles are slow but long lived. A snapping turtle may survive for a hundred years. Females, of various species, take eight to 20 years before they are mature enough to produce eggs. In the wild, they can afford this leisure because adult mortality rate is so low. Add humans, add roads, habitat loss and civilization, then slow reproduction becomes a big handicap. Perhaps a fatal one.
However, spring isn’t over yet. As I bike along my stretch of marsh front, I’ll keep watch for turtles venturing onto the dangerous pavements. Traffic will stop if it has to. I’ll dodge the big snapper’s hiss and snapping jaws, shove it gingerly across and hope against shaky hope that it gets another fifty years.