by Barbara Van Reed
The Rotary Club of Webster-Dudley welcomed Alexxia Bell and Natasha Nowick to its March 7th club meeting. They are the founders of the Turtle Rescue League, based in Webster.
Ever drive by a little yellow smart car on the road with their website on it and wonder what it was all about? What about all those "Turtle Crossing" signs around town? Have you ever needed to stop your car to let a turtle pass?
Alexxia and Natasha explained all about these cold-blooded reptiles who have been around longer than dinosaurs. Not only have they been here for 280 million years, but they haven't changed much in the last 90 million of them - and can live to a ripe old age of 250 years or longer. Turtles are fused in their shells forever. The blood flows through the tips including nerve endings. They feel pain if even a small piece of their shell breaks off at the outer edge.
There are 10 species in Massachusetts and in the Webster area, 6 of which are endangered. The painted and snapping turtles are the most common ones. Musk turtles are the ones you see coming out at night. The eastern box turtle is not aquatic, is very rare, and is illegal to touch. Initially, they were found from Florida to Maine. They are now completely wiped out in New Hampshire and are considered extinct. The bog turtle, found in Western, MA, will probably be extinct in our lifetime due to its special habitat needed and the difficulty it has getting there due to the number of cars preventing access to the water inlets.
Since the snapping turtle is the most common around here, it was discussed in most detail (and seemed to enjoy visiting the Rotary meeting, too). It averages 60-70 lbs. and will live 60-100 years. They process their food with the sun (as do all turtles) so they like to stack on top of each other. Their shell is like a solar panel.
Alexxia and Natasha explained that if you see a turtle in the street, turn on your headlights, then help get it where it is going. Turtles are home range dependent. They can be picked up, but will die if they get lost. Alexxia demonstrated how to pick up a snapping turtle by scooping it up from underneath, holding its tail, and moving it across the road. Keep it low to the ground, as it won't even be aware that you have moved it until it has already gotten to the side of the road.
If you find an injured turtle on the road, it will most likely be a female full of eggs - she can hold up to 100 of them. Don't leave it on the street. You need to put it in a box and get it to Tufts so the eggs can hatch. Crushed turtles can live up to 3 days in pain. Contact the Turtle Rescue League (TRL) if you need assistance.
Female snapping turtles take 15-29 years before they are able to reproduce. Most make 1000 eggs in order to get just one to survive to full adulthood. When they are hatched, they are completely whole with their shell and are the size of a dime.
If a turtle is digging a hole in your yard, it is a female nesting. Pull in your pets and kids and watch. She appears to cry as she is actually keeping her eyes moist due to her time out of the water. Protect the eggs. Take chicken wire and make a dome. They will hatch in 60-90 days at which time you can move them to the body of water where you think the mother came from. Piles of loam and mulch are where you can find turtle nests. DON'T move the eggs or the nest! Not even 30 degrees or they will die. Call TRL if you find a nest.
Did you know that there is a law in Massachusetts called the 4" Law? It states that you can't purchase a pet turtle smaller than 4". The reason is so that children can't put them in their mouths. Another bit of turtle trivia is the longest trip on land for a snapping turtle was 14 miles from one lake to another. It took her 10 days to get there.
For those interested in more information on working with turtles, the Turtle Rescue League will be doing training at the Mass Audubon on Massasoit Road in Worcester from 10 a.m.-noon on April 7th. Alexxia and Natasha can be reached at 774-318-0734 and on the web at TurtleRescueLeague.com. They are always looking for people to adopt a rehabilitated turtle.
Please be sure to join The Rotary Club of Webster-Dudley on March 21st when Diane Dias, from AAA, gives an update on their latest lobbying efforts. And on March 28th, Christine Zecker, from Cameron Hughes Wines, will teach us all how to choose the perfect wine. Just in time for the holidays!
Rotary is a global humanitarian organization with more than 1.2 million members in 34,000 Rotary clubs in over 200 countries and geographical areas. Rotary members are men and women who are business, professional and community leaders with a shared commitment to make the world a better place through humanitarian service. Rotary’s top priority is the global eradication of polio.
Caryl Savard makes acquaintance.