Video: Dancing Turtle’s Vision

Please enjoy this short video which highlights the work that we do and why we do what we do for turtles.

Just a Bit Snappy

Our Dancing Turtle wildlife rehabilitators, Jen and Debbie, agree that snapping turtles are among our favorite patients. Although extra care must be taken to avoid their powerful jaws when treating them, snapping turtles tend to be friendly and relaxed while recovering. They seem to appreciate receiving care, even if they are just a bit snappy.

common snapping turtle in a stock tank under a light

This snapping turtle was injured by a car. While snappy during her initial treatment, she is relaxed and curious now.

The common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) is native to New York. Snapping turtles are found from southern Ontario in Canada all the way to Florida and west to the Rocky Mountains. Snapping turtles live in rivers, lakes, marshes, shallow ponds, and streams. They may also live in brackish environments, where rivers and streams meet salt water.

Snapping turtles spend most of their time in the water and bask by floating on the surface with only their carapaces exposed. Here, in the northern part of their range, they may also bask on fallen logs, especially during the spring.

They are most active at dawn and dusk. While they are known for their snap, when snapping turtles are encountered in the water, they are docile and will most likely slip quietly away. Occasionally a snapping turtle will approach a human in the water out of curiosity, but rarely aggressively.

snapping turtle on edge of road

She put up a fight, but this snapping turtle was successfully helped across a busy road.

From late May until early July, female snapping turtles travel to find sandy soil in which to lay their eggs, often some distance from the water, which is when you are most likely to encounter one on land. Walking is awkward for these water dwellers, and they tend to react defensively when approached. Unfortunately, their travels often take them across roads where they may be hit by cars. The snapping turtle’s defensiveness makes it harder to help them cross or to aid them when injured, but it can be done.

In the summer of 2021 we had a record number of injured snapping turtle intakes. We are happy that we could care for so many, but we could not do it without compassionate people to bring them to us. We appreciate those who are willing to help injured snapping turtles and have included instructions for handling them on our injured turtle response page.

Wood Turtle in the Bus

Earlier this month we processed our first wood turtle intake of 2021. While not yet on the threatened species list, wood turtles are of special concern in New York due to their declining numbers.

wood turtle shown from front with head tucked in, eyes swollen, metal tape and white cream on shell

Wood turtles are semi-aquatic and live in streams in woodland areas. They are the only freshwater turtle native to the Adirondacks that can eat out of the water, and will forage for berries, mushrooms, slugs, and worms in the woods. Although the woods is their preferred habitat, wood turtles get their name from their rich brown carapace, which has rings that look like wood grain. Their necks and legs sport bright orange patches.

Our wood turtle patient survived getting hit by a car and, luckily, avoided a broken spine and a skull fracture. We suspected both during our intial examination, but x-rays at the vet showed that was not the case. Her carapace crack is stable and healing. We are also treating an eye infection that has so far kept her eyes swollen closed, but we are hopeful it will resolve with time.

The wood turtle will be wintering over with us, along with a number of painted turtles and snapping turtles. Our supply needs are double what they were last winter. You can help us give these turtles a safe place to heal with donations from our Amazon Wish List. Thank you!

Baby Turtle Time

We’ve been having hatch parties in our incubators!

snapping turtles hatching

Snapping turtles emerging from their eggs

During the month of August, almost 50 turtles hatched from eggs that had been incubated. Some of those eggs were recovered from nests in construction sites. The rest were laid by gravid turtles who came into our wildlife rehabilition center after being injured by cars. Those injured mother turtles were chemically induced to lay their eggs so they would no longer struggle to escape to finish their egg-laying mission and could relax and heal.

painted turtle hatchling held in hand

A newly hatched painted turtle

We successfully hatched one clutch of midland painted turtle eggs and five clutches of common snapping turtle eggs, with one late clutch still incubating. The earlier hatching snapping turtles will be released soon. The remainder of the hatchlings will spend the winter in our headstart program and will be released in the late spring. Those headstarted turtles will be bigger than their wild hatched counterparts, who often go directly into hibernation after they hatch, which will improve their chances of survival. All of our hatchlings are released near where the eggs or their mothers were found. We hope these small turtles will help those turtle populations to continue to thrive.

painted turtle hatchling in water under leaves

Our nursery tanks include lots of places for tiny hatchlings to hide

Each clutch of turtles requires a tank with a gravel substrate arranged to vary the water depth in different parts of the tank, as well as greenery to hide under and places to bask. Each tank is equipped with a gentle water filter, a heat lamp, and a UVB lamp. The hatchlings are fed a combination of live food such as small mealworms or earthworms, pieces of fish, and commercial turtle food designed for healthy growth. As they age, we may divide clutches into separate containers to reduce competition until we can transfer them into larger enclosures outside. After a few weeks in spring spent adjusting to sunlight and changing weather conditions, our hatchlings will be ready to take their place in the wild.

Check back for updates this winter to see how these babies are growing.

Snapping Turtle Summer

The wildlife rehabilitation arm of our organization has never been as busy as we are this summer, and we have never had as many snapping turtles as we have currently. Snapping turtles can, of course, be a bit more challenging to care for than other turtle species, but we love them.

a snapping turtle with first aid cream on its shell, head lifted looking at camera

Small snapping turtle George is one of this springs intakes with head trauma.

Snapping turtles have a bad reputation due to their orneriness when they are out of water, but most of the time you might swim right by one without ever knowing they were there. If you look, you might see one half buried in the mud at the bottom of a creek or floating in a lake catching some rays on a sunny day. They have excellent camouflage, though, so they are not so easily spotted.

Snapping turtles are like all freshwater turtles and lay their eggs on land. To do so, they frequently must cross roads and are often the victims of careless drivers. Because their anatomy is different than a “typical” turtle in that they are unable to tuck their heads into their shells, when a car approaches, they tend to snap at it. As a result, many snapping turtles that come into rehabilitation arrive with some type of head injury. We can medicate to reduce pain and inflammation but, like human concussions, head trauma heals slowly even when not complicated by superficial facial wounds.

Snapping turtles frequently require long-term care and always need significantly larger housing than their smaller cousins. We are grateful for the contributions of 100-gallon stock tanks we have received this year. We were able to help more snapping turtles because we had them.

Because the wounds have larger surface areas, we go through first aid supplies quickly. Our supporters have gifted many items off of our Amazon wishlist this year, which has been amazing. Thank you so much for your donations! They are getting us through this snapping turtle summer.