Cape Wildlife Center Cares for Snapping Turtle Moms on the Mend
We're in peak turtle season across New England, and it's never been more important to keep an eye out for these beautiful creatures crossing a road near you.
New England Wildlife Center's Cape Branch knows the struggle all too well. Executive Director Zak Mertz said the branch typically sees about 150 cases of turtles hit by cars each year, and currently, they have a group of eight recovering turtles, seven of which are expecting mothers.
"This time on the South Shore of Massachusetts, in New England, and certainly on the Cape, we are seeing a ton of turtle patients," Mertz said. "Unfortunately in the process of going to lay their eggs [and] deposit them in a safe spot in the hopes that these little hatchlings will make their way to water, and into open fields in the case of the boxed turtles, some of them run into trouble."
While many turtles can survive getting hit by a car, they still need help from veterinarians to achieve a full recovery.
As NEWC has begun to see more and more turtles with cracked and sheared shells, the center converted one room into a snapping turtle maternity ward, where all of the expecting mamas are currently recovering from their recent surgeries.
The center's Cape Branch went live on Facebook Monday afternoon as Mertz joined Dr. Priya Patel and veterinary technician Robin Rome, who started the process of inducing the turtles by injecting oxytocin into their muscles.
Mertz said that while the the center's first priority is always to stabilize the turtle itself, a close second is to make sure the turtle's eggs will have a fighting chance as well. By inducing the mothers, the center is able to monitor and incubate the eggs, and once they're ready, deposit them in the wild so the mothers can focus on recovering.
With all of the mama turtles officially induced, the Cape Branch is expecting a lot of eggs very soon. Mertz said the branch is expecting close to 150 eggs, all of which will incubate for 80 to 90 days before the babies start breaking out of their shells. The mothers, on the other hand, can be expected to stay at the branch for a whole lot longer.
"Turtles do everything slow, and that includes healing," Mertz said. "These guys not only require longer healing times, but they're [also] seasonal. As a cold-blooded animal, we can't take them out and release them in October or November or December or January. We have to wait until a new warm stretch, so my guess is all of the turtles you're seeing here today will be here well into 2022."
In the meantime, Mertz urged drivers across the SouthCoast, the Cape and New England in general to keep an eye out for turtles, and to give them a helping hand in the direction they were heading if needed.
"Look twice, brake for turtles, slow down," Mertz said. "If you see one in the road, see if you can stop, [and] when it's safe to do so, shuffle them to the side. It will save them, it will save their babies, and it will save many of the species that are in danger."
So how do you safely pick up a turtle, especially if it's a snapping turtle with enough power behind its jaw to take a finger off? Mertz said that going from the back of the turtle, you place one hand on its underside and scoop it up "like a dinner plate," keeping your hands (and fingers) out of reach of the turtle's mouth at all times. Check out how veterinary technician Robin Rome handles the mama turtles in the video above for an example.