ARKANSAS, USA — With turtles on the move all over Arkansas, with many found alongside roads in rural and suburban areas thanks to a wet spring, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) is giving people tips on what to do if they come across one.
According to the AGFC, the three-toed box turtle is one of the most common turtles motorists will encounter in Arkansas, which is protected and illegal to possess or collect.
Many turtles can retract into their shells, but box turtles lift their lower shell to completely seal out attackers and form a snug “box” of protection. This defense style makes attacks by many small predators useless against adult box turtles, leaving disease and automobiles as the top causes of an individual turtle’s demise.
Kelly Irwin, the Herpetological Program Coordinator for the AGFC, says three-toed box turtles often stay within the same 10- to 25-acre range for their entire life and have a strong homing instinct. She says if they are moved outside of this area, they may spend the rest of their lives wandering, trying to reorient themselves, especially if turtles are already present in the area where they are placed.
“One recent study moved a number of box turtles to a new location and tracked their movements,” Irwin said. “Only 47 percent of those moved established a home range in the new area. The rest wandered away or died.”
Dr. Jenn Ballard, the wildlife veterinarian for the AGFC, says moving or concentrating turtles can introduce diseases or parasites to new areas, which can impact populations of turtles.
Another common practice is to mark or cover a turtle’s shell in paint so it will be recognizable but the AGFC is warning against it. The AGFC says painting a turtle a bright color makes it easier for predators to locate. The paint also can be toxic to turtles, depending on the type used, and can block UV light needed by the turtle.
If someone wants to release a turtle they’ve held in captivity, they should find a local expert who knows how to handle turtles to ensure it is able to survive and does not pose a risk of spreading disease or parasites it may have picked up during its time as a pet. Ballard says there are some rehabilitators who specialize in turtles among the ones listed here.
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