Thousands of land and aquatic turtles are on the move, many across roads, in their attempt to find a spot to hibernate.
The reptiles have begun to dig in for the winter – the instinctive behavior of hibernation which protects them until spring.
Karen Testa, Executive Director/President of Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons in Jamesport, is urging Long Islanders to be on the lookout for turtles along the roadways.
“I’m urging everyone to be very aware of turtles when you’re driving. They’re very vulnerable this time of year as their natural instinct is to do what they’ve done for millions of years — regardless of roads – and that is to find a safe location where they can spend the winter,” she said.
There are many roads on the North and South forks that turtles cross to search for a place to spend the winter.
From mid-September to mid-October, depending on how cold the weather is, thousands of turtles across Long Island search for a protective place where they can spend the next six months.
At Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons, approximately 44 turtles will winter in an outside sanctuary — they cannot be released into the wild because of debilitating injuries. They include Eastern Box Turtles (Terrapene carolina), Common Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina) and Diamondback Terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin).
The largest is a Common Snapping Turtle with a straight carapace (shell) length of 20″ estimated to be 50 years old. These turtles will find a protected spot within their enclosures, burrow under debris and leaves, or in lakes and bays to submerge to the bottom.
With their strong claws, they begin to dig so they can get warmth through the ground, air and water. Hibernation also helps protect turtles from predators such as raccoons and dogs.
“We’ve been weighing the turtles and recording statistics about their health so we can keep track of their health before and after hibernation,” said Ms. Testa
“I’m urging homeowners to be careful when mowing their lawns so they don’t run over turtles. We’ve also seen dogs attack turtles so please keep an eye on your pets as they can cause significant damage to turtles,” she added.
In addition to the turtles living on her property, Testa cares for an additional 95 turtles still in rehabilitation. These animals must remain awake for feeding and medication.
Testa points out land turtles take a “long nap” during the winter because they are cold-blooded and cannot regulate their internal temperature. Hibernation helps turtles immune systems work better which in turn improves their reproductive and mental health.
“Turtles typically stop eating 10 to 14 days before they begin digging in the dirt to hibernate. Land turtles also submerge themselves in water to properly hydrate before they make their winter home a few inches below the surface of the ground,” she said. “Aquatic turtles are also hibernating by digging under the marshland, so boaters should avoid bringing their craft into shallow water at this time of year.
Once aquatic turtles settles in, its breathing slows down dramatically and they stop breathing through their lungs. They get oxygen through special skin cells inside their tail.
Testa rehabilitates approximately 190 turtles each year; many are brought to her by concerned citizens who see turtles that have been injured by cars, animals or boats.
More information is online here.