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LA Press: Turtles have reason to cross the road

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Posted by W von Papinešu on April 19, 2003 at 18:42:25:

NEWS-STAR (Munroe, Louisiana) 19 April 03 Turtles have reason to cross the road (Leesha Faulkner)
As temperatures rise during the early spring, you're likely to see more turtles trying to cross the road.
Some motorists swerve over to hit them and hear the crunch. Others simply can't avoid them. Those motorists who like to hear turtle shells crunch generally are killing females in search of a place to nest.
Not everyone deems turtles as fair game for tires. Anna Hill doesn't.
"That's one of my pet peeves," said Hill, interim head of the biology department at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
There's a lot more activity in spring in general, but it's getting close to nesting time for female turtles, said John Carr, an associate professor in the biology department at ULM, who studies turtles. May and June generally mark the time of year when, depending on the turtle species, females seek a nest to deposit their eggs.
"For aquatic turtles, it's a dangerous time in their life," he said, adding that automobiles pose only one threat. Others include raccoons, dogs or coyotes. Raccoons will flip a turtle over, bite a leg to let the turtle bleed to death, then rip it open and gorge themselves on all the entrails. Very often, all that's left is a shell and a little flesh, Carr said.
"Raccoons are really the worst," he said.
Female aquatic turtles emerge from the water and travel - sometimes the length of two or three football fields and not necessarily in a straight line - to seek a place to lay their eggs. Once that's accomplished, the turtles generally travel back to the water.
The problem: Unlike sea turtles, which lay their eggs at night, most freshwater turtles move about in the daytime. On a sunny day, they'll travel during the morning. During cloudy or rainy weather, turtles will move about during daylight hours, he said.
Most of the turtles bought as pets have their genesis in the wild. The turtle pet industry in Louisiana is a multimillion-dollar business, Carr said.
"Ultimately, the breeding stock comes from the wild," he said.
Turtles also provide sustenance. Many people have avoided killing young turtles because they know they'll be food in the future. Older ones are taken home and fried like a chicken or prepared in soup.
"They are a source of food," Carr said.
Additionally, turtles provide a link between two ecosystems: water and land. They live in the water and come out on land to lay their eggs. Carr said red-eared sliders, common around this area, at certain times of the year will come out of the water and eat grass near the edge of the water.
"But they live life in the water, transferring resources from land to water," he said.
So, the next time you see a turtle in the road, think about the turtle's value to the ecosystem.
Carr said he's reluctant to suggest people help the turtle because they might put themselves in danger. He said he pulls over and helps, but also watches for oncoming cars.

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