Driving down MD 33 over Memorial Day weekend I spied a box turtle slowing crossing the road. He never changed his pace while he passed under my car and the car behind me. Keeping his slow, but steady stride, he headed into oncoming traffic from the other direction; somehow managing to make it to the other side. He picked the busiest time of year to cross, but he couldn’t help it, it is turtle mating season.
This is turtle-crossing time, so look out for that tiny lump in the road.
Last year, I watched a beautiful terrapin cross the nature trail, only to discover him later squashed after he ventured onto Mt Pleasant Road.
Yesterday, I saw a large, imposing, almost-prehistoric female snapping turtle crossing my street. She turned her head to stare down my dogs and me, and we were sufficiently cowed. While snapping turtles are considered pretty docile in the water, scientists and game wardens warn us to stay away from a female searching for a nest. This large lady was undoubtedly heading to lay her eggs. Sometimes snapping turtles can travel up to 10 miles to accomplish this task…but once she has made the perilous crossing and laid her eggs, her responsibilities are over…and the next day, she probably headed back to her creek. If all goes well, her eggs will hatch in about 2 ½ months and the hatchlings will instinctively head for water.
Terrapins are as beautiful as snapping turtles are ugly. They are actually named diamondback turtles, and are characterized by their distinctive shells, which are diamond-shaped and filled with concentric circles (like bullseye). Seeing a smashed terrapin was tragic for three reasons: first, they are endangered; second, they are the Maryland state reptile; and, finally, for those of us University of Maryland grads, they are the university’s mascot. The lucky terrapins live to 40 years and thrive in the Chesapeake Bay and its brackish tributaries. But they are endangered because they were the main ingredient in local turtle soup recipes. Although they have been protected since 2007; they have yet to make a comeback.
Box turtles, on the other hand, are not endangered. The lucky MD 33 crosser was probably a male, looking for action. Box turtles prefer fresh water and woodlands. Like their turtle cousins, the gender of the turtle is determined by the outside temperature while the eggs are developing. Warmer temperatures produce females, and the colder temperatures generate males. So that is one (and probably the only benefit) of a warm summer.
The Eastern box turtle that I saw last week had a very colorful shell, while most are yellow, his was a bright orange in hue. I see box turtles on the nature trail frequently; just like their lucky cousin on MD 33, they may stop to look, but never vary their stride.
So, for the next two months, keep on the lookout for a little moving lump on the road, because it is unlikely that that turtle will be as lucky as the one on Memorial Day.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.