Wood turtles in New England face more dangers than one might think. Ecologists Liz Willey and Mike Jones educated students and others on the wood turtle, specifically wood turtles in the Northeast and the Monadnock region.
The event was sponsored by the Harris Center for Conservation Education and the Keene State College School of Sciences.
“Our mission is just getting people connected to the natural world,” Brett Thelen said. Thelen is a science director at the Harris Center.
The Harris Center is a land trust that has helped save 22,000 acres of land from development around the Monadnock region, according to Thelen.
The group encourages sustainability and conservation and sponsors many events and studies in the area.
The presentation on Thursday, Feb. 25 began with an informational background piece on turtles.
“There have been turtles for a very, very long time, something like two-hundred-and-forty to two-hundred-and-fifty million years,” Jones said.
Unlike some other species that evolved into completely different creatures, turtles today look generally the same as they did 200 million years ago, according to Jones. “The average person in this room could look at a picture of an ancient turtle and say ‘Hey, that’s a turtle,” he continued.
Turtles grow until they’re 21-23 years old, but can live until they are 50-60 years old, but it’s pretty clear they are living in their seventies or eighties, easily.
Moving the conversation specifically to the wood turtle found in the northeast, Jones talked about the anatomy of the turtle — specifically how to identify a turtle.
The belly, or plastron of a male wood turtle has a deep concavity and the male has a long tail. The female on the other hand, has a flat, smooth under-shell with a small tail.
“The wood turtle habitat is one of the more beautiful turtle habitats,” Jones said, describing the rivers wood turtles live near.
“They seem to be in relatively larger streams or rivers, not so much in high mountain areas,” Willey said.
Roughly six months of a wood turtle’s year is spent hanging out by the river, with June 8 being the peak nesting day for wood turtles.
Sadly though, not all is peaceful for the wood turtle.
In the late 90s, Jones explained, a crisis was growing regarding the sale of turtles in Asia.
After this emerging problem, multiple turtle conservation groups sprung up around the world to help the endangered reptiles.
“The trade had become so excessive that many species were declining into endangerment,” Jones said, “Almost every week there seems to be new information about poaching busts or confiscated turtles, oftentimes shipped across borders,” he continued.
Jones said there are rising trade prices for wood turtles globally, with prices between 300 and 400 dollars. All of this trade is completely illegal, according to Jones.
Willey added that there is another threat to turtles in their ecosystem.
Of the turtles Willey and Jones’ group tagged in their studies, “Up to ten percent annually were being killed by mowers,” Willey said.
Large, industrial lawn mowers can destroy a turtle’s shell and kill it.
This is a surprising threat to turtles living in even minimally developed areas. So, what can people do to help preserve the turtle population in the northeast?
“If you know a good wood turtle population, keep it close to vest,” Willey said.
Willey and Jones expressed their concern of poachers and said people shouldn’t openly talk about places with turtles.
Also, help your local turtle cross the road. According to Jones and Willey, most of them are females either coming from or going to their nest.
Skyler Frazer can be contacted at email@example.com