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Tips for Turtle Encounters

Photo by Jillian Pohlig

Tips for Turtle Encounters

1 Jun 2022 | Jillian Pohlig Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune

North Carolina is home to 21 species of turtles. Of these 21 species, 11 are protected by law that prohibits the “commercial taking” of turtles and terrapins in the families Emydidae and Trionychidae. Turtles inhabit various different habitats including ponds, lakes, rivers, swamps, marshes, woodlands and grasslands. Within these habitats is a home range, in which the turtle lives. The turtle knows in this home range where to find an appropriate food and water source, cover from predators, and a hibernaculum for overwintering. Turtles do not respond well to being relocated from their home range and should be left within close proximity to where they are found. As daylight and temperatures increase turtle activity also increases. The breeding season for turtles ranges from April to October for most species. During this time turtles are in search of mates and nesting grounds. All turtles, including aquatic turtles nest on land in sandy, loose soils. As turtles begin their search for a nesting site expect to see more turtles out and about, including crossing roads. Some turtles can even travel up to a mile from a water source in search of a suitable nesting site.

Turtles do carry and transmit certain diseases. Most well-known is Salmonella in aquatic or semi-aquatic turtles, which can be transmitted to humans. Ranavirus is another disease carried by turtles. It is not known to effect humans, but it is very deadly to many amphibians and reptiles. After handling any wildlife be sure to wash and/or sanitize your hands. This will not only protect yourself but also help stop the spread of any diseases to other wildlife.

There have been instances on the installation of people painting turtles. This is unhealthy and dangerous for the turtle. The paint can hinder their ability to absorb vitamins they need from the sun, cause respiratory problems, and allow toxic chemicals into the bloodstream. The shell of a turtle is a living, growing part of its body, which means that covering it with paint can block vitamin-packed rays of light from reaching the shell. A “painted” turtle would also stick out like a sore thumb among its natural habitat. Their main defense is to remain unseen and unnoticed by using their amazing camouflage. Cover that up, and they are likely to be noticed by predators.  DO NOT paint or mark turtles!

How to help a turtle safely cross a road:

  • Only help a turtle if it is eminent danger. Be aware of any hazards that could threaten your own safety.
  • Always use 2 hands when picking up a turtle. Firmly grasp the turtle in the middle of its shell between the front and back legs.
  • Never pick a turtle up by its tail as it can dislocate the bones of the tail.
  • Never handle aggressive turtles with your hands. If you need to handle turtles, such as snapping turtles, only do so with a shovel or broom. Using the tool to encourage the turtle across the road.
  • Keep the turtle upright. Turning, flipping or swinging can disrupt the organs.
  • Place the turtle across the road in the direction that it was headed.
  • Resist the urge to relocate a turtle to “appropriate habitat.” Relocating a turtle out of its home range could increase its risk of death due to predation, exposure, or other factors.

If you have any questions or concerns about turtles please contact the Land and Wildlife Resources Section at 910-451-5226 or