By Peter Gordon, Elachee Education Director
There is just something about turtles. They capture our imaginations – whether as popular culture superheroes and comic relief, or simply as quiet creatures from our childhood.
In particular, ‘Baby Boomers’ know turtles. Most of us born in the 1950s and early 1960s, at one point in our lives had a turtle as a pet. Small sliders, painted turtles and other aquatic species were captured by the tens of thousands and sold in pet stores around the country.
My brother and I shared one. We named him Polaris, after the submarine, because he would dive deeply from his basking ledge near the plastic mermaid into the water of his tank whenever one of us approached. Since our parents made it clear that this was “our” turtle, we were responsible for feeding and more importantly, cleaning his tank. He taught us some responsibility and, considering how often we needed to change his water, a lot about turtle digestion and excretion.
Most of us, young and boomer alike have memories of turtles. All of us have likely seen box turtles crossing though our backyards after a summer rain, glimpsed common snapping turtles floating through water like an aquatic blimp or pond sliders stacked like pancakes on a preferred log, rock or other basking spots on a warm early spring day.
Turtles are probably the most approachable reptile we have in the southeast – because of their lack of speed, ferocity (with a few exceptions) or venom. Scientists are discovering more and more about turtles’ lives and their impact on the communities in which they live.
Be Aware: Turtle Crossing
For example, land turtles such as the box turtle, are creatures of habit and are loyal to and acutely dependent on their habitats. These reptiles are like mail carriers; they have a defined route.
What should you do if you happen upon a turtle or tortoise crossing the road? If you are trying to save a turtle from being run over, direction and distance are key. Relocate the turtle to the side of the road it is facing. Do not relocate to another area or turn it to face a different direction from the one it was heading!
Removing one of these turtles from that route and putting them in a new territory without familiar landmarks, drinking spots, food sources and hiding areas, dooms them to an and uncertain future and an endless search for the familiar. In other words, the turtle will spend the rest of its life trying to find its way back home.
Georgia and the other southeastern states are rich in turtle species. Knowing and respecting them will provide you a real appreciation of a unique animal species and the diverse habitats in which they live.