Turtles are on the move in Austin
There's a lot to keep an eye out for on Austin roadways. In the summer, that includes turtles.
Texas is home to about 28 different species of the ancient reptile. And in the summer months, the shelled creatures often migrate across the terrain to seek out new territory, find food or settle into the perfect nesting place. The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department says witnessing a turtle crossing the road is more common in the warmer months and encourages folks to be mindful of turtles on the move.
Paul Crump, a Texas Parks & Wildlife herpetologist, says female turtles are especially active.
"The primary thing we see happening right now is probably female turtles coming out of the water to nest," Crump said. "They can move anywhere from 6 feet to half a mile away from a waterbody to nest."
In Central Texas, turtles live near our river systems. The aquatic or semi-aquatic creatures use their webbed feet to swim around freshwater areas. According to Crump, when they aren't swimming, you'll usually find them basking on a log or rock to soak up some sun and warm their body temperatures. Turtles are ectothermic — or cold-blooded — and require the sun to warm up their bodies.
When it's time to reproduce, female turtles seek out sunny, warm banks with moist soil to lay their eggs. Once they lay the eggs, the females carry on their adventures and leave the eggs to develop naturally. They hatch in about 60 to 90 days. This, of course, makes the eggs vulnerable to predators, including raccoons, skunks and armadillos. But Crump says the mama turtles do their best to reduce the risk of peril.
"They'll dig maybe five or six fake nests, and one of those nests will be real," Crump said. "And the thought is that they're trying to confuse the predators, waste the predators' time digging up a nest that doesn't have any eggs in it. It's a clever strategy."
Crump says while female turtles are responsible for most of the summer migration activity, trekking turtles are not always ladies.
"Turtles actually move around a lot more than people think for other reasons," Crump said. "They can go up to 2 miles through the terrestrial landscape, crossing roads, going through fields, woodlands, and all that kind of stuff to go to a different pond. So there's a lot of connectivity and dispersal that goes on among turtles."
If you happen to come across a turtle inching across a road or pathway, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has a few tips to help move them along.
First, prioritize your own safety. If you decide to help the turtle, remember to never grab it by its tail — only by the back of its shell — and always move it in the same direction that it was walking. Using a car mat to move it can also be handy.
But, if you aren't in a position to help the turtle, know that they are a pretty resourceful group.
"Turtles have been around millions of years. They're a really old group of animals," Crump said. "So, to some degree, they know what they're doing."