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The painted turtle is the most common not just in New England, but also throughout North America. This turtle can live as long as 55 years, and fossils show it existed 15 million years ago. In the winter it hibernates in the mud at the bottom of bodies of water. (Cheryl Leblanc)

Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: In NH, it is good manners to brake for those turtles, too


Editor’s Note: The following column was printed in the Union Leader on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2006.

TURTLES HAVE always held a special place in the hearts of most children.

At about the age of 5, I recall being fascinated by one that appeared in our back yard. The turtle was navigating across a small sand bank located between our house and a large, chair factory. I couldn’t place a name on it of course, but it was a small, wild thing that moved slowly enough to be caught. Strange as it may seem, I didn’t try to pick it up but followed its progress until it left our yard. Some days later while digging in the sand, I unearthed several leathery, white eggs. The shells were pliable but didn’t break easily as a hen’s egg would. Later, I learned I had dug up turtle eggs.

This recollection came to mind while reading a letter from one of our Manchester readers. In part, it read: “I was riding my bike down the Lake Massebesic rail trail near the Manchester/Auburn town line on Sunday, June 11, when I came across a strange looking turtle. I stopped and took several pictures of the turtle as it plodded down a stream of water dividing the trail. The turtle’s shell was oval, maybe 8 inches long with a maximum width of 5 inches. The most striking feature, however, was the haphazard sprinkling of yellow spots over the shell. I did a search online and found that I had encountered a spotted, or polka dot turtle (Clemmys guttata).

“According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Web site, the spotted turtle is endangered in many parts of the Northeast and is protected in Massachusetts. Its presence is a good measure of the area’s water quality. These spotted turtles are apparently very sensitive to toxicants in the water and their population declines as pollutants mount. A good sign, then, is to find this specimen so close to our water supply!”

A few years ago the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department promulgated new rules to protect turtles. These regulations protect four vulnerable species: Blanding’s, spotted, wood and eastern box turtles. It is no longer legal in New Hampshire to take these species out of their habitats.

These four species are of particular concern because scientists and naturalists have noticed declines throughout the turtle ranges. Some suspect that collection from the wild, especially large-scale collecting for the pet trade, is the main cause for the declines.

According to my good friend, Hilbert “Bandy” Siegler in his book “New Hampshire Nature Notes,” published by Equity Publishing Corp. in 1962: “Of the approximately 260 kinds of known turtles, only seven are found in New Hampshire: musk, snapping, spotted, wood, Blanding’s, box and painted turtles. The most common turtle in this state is the colorful painted turtle found in most ponds of southern New Hampshire. The wood turtle is perhaps the second in abundance. Blanding’s turtles and box turtles are so rare in New Hampshire that the Research Division would appreciate having any found in this state.” Bandy was a biologist for the Fish and Game Department for many years.

The spotted turtle has yellow spots on its head, neck, legs and its black upper shell. The number of spots change with age. When they hatch they have one spot on each plate. As they grow older they can have as many as 100 or more. Occasionally, one is found without spots. The spotted turtle’s under shell is yellow and black.

As they reach the age of 8-10, they become of breeding age. Following mating between March and May, the female digs a hole with her hind feet and deposits three or four eggs. When finished, she covers them and then smooths the dirt by dragging her undershell over the area. Spotted turtles can live from 25 to 50 years.

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For 20 years I served as a member of the State Board of Fire Control. When I was first appointed to the board by Gov. John King, Aubrey G. Robinson of Manchester was the state Fire Marshal. I recall the day we were driving to a meeting in his well-equipped, bright red car. As we came around a corner, “Robbie” spotted a turtle crossing the road. He jammed on his brakes. We stopped just short of the slow-moving wanderer. Immediately he turned on the red lights, jumped out of the car, picked up the turtle, carried it across the road in the direction it was headed and carefully released it.

“There,” he said, when he had settled himself again behind the wheel. “I always help turtles across the road. The way folks drive these days, it’s a wonder that turtles ever get to wherever it is they are going.”

Robbie was a grand fellow and a great fire marshal. It was an honor to have served with him.



Stacey Cole, Nature Talks columnist for more than 50 years, passed away in November. If readers have a favorite column written by Stacey that they would like to see reprinted, please drop a note to Jen Lord at jlord@unionleader.com.

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