Turtles in our Watershed
From April until early July, the turtles in our area will be on the move to find nesting spots. Please watch for them and report your sightings on: www.wiatri.net/inventory/witurtles. The site uses easy to fill out questions to log your sighting. You will be asked where you saw the turtle, the time of day, what they were trying to do, the type of the turtle (if you know it) and the condition of the turtle (alive/dead). You could also upload a photo. This information will be used to help the turtles in our area. If you come across an injured/dead turtle, also read this.
Hotspots: Neighbors have reported seeing turtles along:
- Hwy B between Kroghville Rd and Hwy S
- Hwy B along the northside of the lake
- Shorewood Hills Rd
- Elm Point Rd
- S. Main St between Phillips Ln to the Mill Pond
- S. Ferry Dr. between Woodland Beach Rd and Milton St.
- Lake Shore Dr between Margarette and W. Lake St.
- Tyranena Park Rd near Rock Creek (between Owen St. and Topeka Dr.)
- Hwy A/Topel St. as it bends around Rock Lake, crosses Rock Creek and borders the marshes
- Gladstone Way
- There are other areas where turtles are active but haven’t been reported. In general, slow down and watch for turtles anywhere near water or marsh lands.
If you have seen several turtles crossing a particular road, the RLIA has a limited number of temporary Turtle Crossing signs it can place near the crossing to warn motorists. Call Mike Nesemann (920-397-6051) if you have identified such a spot.
Helping turtles cross the road:
If you want to assist a turtle in safely crossing the road, follow these suggestions:
- Make sure you and your vehicle are safe. Put on your hazard lights and be very careful of oncoming traffic.
- Move the turtle across the road in the SAME direction it was going initially. Don’t try to “turn them around.”
- If they are small enough to carry, hold the shell with two hands in the middle of their shell and carry them low to the ground to minimize any accidental drop. Be careful of their back legs hitting your hands.
- If the turtle is large or a snapping turtle, be very careful. A snapping turtle’s head reaches quite a distance and they are extremely fast when they strike.
- Approach the turtle from behind and grasp the back of the turtle’s shell, spin them around and gently drag them across the road, tail first. Another way to make the dragging easier is to use a car mat. From the back of the shell, pull the turtle onto the car mat and then pull on the car mat to drag the turtle across the road. Re-orient them in the direction they were going by spinning them around again. NEVER grab a snapper by the tail because their spine is fused to their shell and you could hurt them quite severely.
Turtle Nests: Turtles dig holes for their nests. Some species dig multiple holes or “false nests” before actually laying their eggs. The nesting process can last anywhere from 10 mins to four hours! According to Turtles for Tomorrow, “It can take some time to learn to detect a finished turtle nest as most species spend considerable time trying to disguise the site by making it blend with the surroundings.
A finished nest will have a circular flat surface called a nest polish that the female creates by pulling soils back into the nest and compacting it over the eggs using the bottom of her shell. A fresh polish will have claw marks at the outer edge. Snapping Turtle nests are usually quite sloppy, having no polish but having a long mound of soil behind where the eggs are deposited. The mound is often interrupted by the turtle’s long thick tail.” If you have a nest on your property, Rock Lake Improvement Association has a few nest cages which can help protect the eggs from predators. Please call Mike Chmell (815-979-7442) and he will arrange to get you a free turtle nesting cage to use for the season. If you are lucky enough to have hatchlings, it is important not to keep a turtle as a pet. The pet industry has played a significant role in the decline of turtle populations.
Why should I worry about turtles? Turtles are an ancient group going back over 200 million years with very slow maturity rates. For example, a snapping turtle first mates at 15-20 years! Wisconsin has 11 turtle species which are all declining. This decline is attributed primarily to four factors. The first factor is habitat– habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation (requiring road crossings) and habitat degradation. Degradation happens when invasive plants such as phragmites cause wetlands to lose their ability to support a rich network of life. Another significant factor is nest predators, such as raccoons, which are overly abundant and remain unchecked. The last two factors are climate change (many turtles have environmental sex determination) and overexploitation of the commercial pet trade. Any assistance that you can give to a female trying to lay her eggs would be helpful.
Here are the turtles which have been seen in Rock Lake and its watershed:
Spiny softshell turtles: These turtles are typically seen along Hwy B and the north side of Rock Lake. They cross the highway as well as nest along the road’s shoulder. The state lists these turtles as common but declining. Perhaps this is because spiny softshells need a waterbody with fairly high oxygen levels to survive the winter. Since Rock Lake has a population of these turtles, it may be a good indicator of a healthy lake. The turtle’s shell is leathery and fairly flat. A female’s shell can measure up to 19” in length. Their nose is long and somewhat pig like. Its feet are fully webbed. These turtles begin mating between ages 8 to 10 and can live upwards of 50 years. Hatchlings must overwinter in the lake and usually take 82-84 days to incubate.
Snapping turtles: They are the largest and heaviest (9-35lbs) of Wisconsin’s turtles.
They continue to grow throughout their life. They have a long and jagged looking tail. The head has a pointed snout, a noticeable beak and is very mobile. These turtles begin mating between ages 15 to 20 years and some Canadian scientists suggest that the maximum age is over 100 years. Unlike spiny turtles, snappers can travel extensively over land to lay their eggs. Experimental data seems to support the idea that snapping turtles can sense the Earth’s magnetic field.
Painted turtles: For most Wisconsin residents, painted turtles are the most familiar, often seen basking on logs along waterways. Adult turtles are 4-10” in length. Their skin is olive to black with stripes of red, orange or yellow. Females begin mating between ages of 6 to 16 years and can live for more than 55 years. Female painted turtles can take up to four hours to nest and may make multiple “false” nests.
Northern/Common Map Turtles: Map turtles are most commonly seen in rivers, although we have them in Rock Lake. Their shells are olive green with lines that resemble a topographical map and have a faint midline ridge. The back edge of the shell is serrated. Shells range in size from 6 to 10” across. Map turtle skin is olive/dark brown with yellow or greenish striping and they can live 15-20 years.
Blanding Turtles: This species is of “special concern” in Wisconsin. It is a semi-aquatic turtle whose shell size ranges from 7 to 10” across and is speckled with yellow or light colored flakes. It is also quite domed. The best way to identify Blandings is their bright yellow chin and throat. Blanding turtles interest scientists studying longevity since this turtle shows little to no common signs of aging and are physically active into 80-90 years of life. Typically, they start mating at 14-20 years. According to Josh Kapfer, UW Whitewater professor, Blandings are one of the most cold tolerant of Wisconsin’s turtles and travel widely over land, often frequenting multiple waterbodies or wetlands within their territory.
Eastern Musk Turtles: Eastern musk turtles are one of Wisconsin’s smaller turtles. Their hatchlings are only slightly larger than a penny! The musk turtle is also known as the stinkpot because it emits a stinky odor when seized. Its head has a sharply pointed snout with two thin, whitish-yellow stripes running along either side and onto the neck. They have small, poorly webbed feet and short legs. Their shell is noticeably domed. According to the DNR, they spend much of their time walking on the bottom of lakes with abundant aquatic vegetation, foraging for snails, fingernail clams and aquatic insects. Females often lay two clutches a season of 1-9 eggs under debris in loamy soils. They are mature at about 4 years with males reaching maturity at two. This species suffers incidental mortality from fishing lines and traps.
Did you know what determines the sex of a baby turtle? For many species, it is the outside temperature during incubation. For Blanding turtles, a cooler temperature produces males. For Painted turtles and Map turtles, a cooler temperature produces females! Spiny softshell turtles use DNA, just like humans do, to determine the sex.
Compiled by Susan Trier, RLIA Board Member