Waves from the dunes: Painted Turtle Crossing

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The following article was written for Woodland Dunes Ripples from the Dunes series by Jackson Bjork, Summer Intern.

One of the many things I enjoy most in life is driving my Jeep Wrangler with the windows open, the convertible top open and the feeling of the cool sea breeze through my hair on a beautiful summer day. While driving near Mishico a few weeks ago, my pleasure was suddenly interrupted by a rock-shaped object lying in the middle of the roadway. After narrowly missing the suspicious object, I was so overwhelmed by my curiosity that I immediately turned around at the nearest driveway and drove back to their location. As I approached the object, I saw a scared turtle trying to cross the dangerous road. Back then I made it my business to save the helpless turtle! After avoiding another oncoming car, I urgently ran to pick it up. When I got it back in the safe harbor of my jeep, I inspected it and found that it was a painted turtle (Chrysemys picta), more precisely the subspecies of the western painted turtle (C, S. bellii).

Painted turtles are one of the most numerous turtles living in North America. They can be found from southern Canada to northern Mexico and there are a total of four subspecies that make up the entirety of the painted turtles. These subspecies are the Eastern (C. p. Picta), Midland (C. p. Marginate), Southern (C. p. Dorsalis), and the Western tortoise that I found on the road. The turtles are characterized by yellow, orange or red stripe patterns that can be seen on their skin. What differentiates the subspecies from one another is the patterns on their shells. The western, which is also most common in Wisconsin, is easy to spot by the bright red pattern on the underside of their seashells.

My first mistake in rescuing the turtle was taking it to a “safer place” away from the unsafe road. Many people assume every year that they are doing the right thing by removing turtles from the streets and moving them to other places that provide a safer habitat, but this is actually causing harm to the turtles. In fact, it’s a better idea to just move the turtle off the road in the direction it’s facing. This is because the turtle is most likely trying to return to its eggs or some specific habitat that they depend on for their survival. Moving the turtle to a new location will only put it in more danger. If they have moved, they will be unfamiliar with the new living space and will by all possible means return to the home from which they were removed. As they try to get home, they will cross more streets and be easily exposed to predators. Fortunately, I was informed of this information before I released the turtle elsewhere, and now the same little turtle I rescued from the street is back where it belongs, in his home.

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