A long neck turtle in the long grass. Photo by Marcus Couper.
A long neck turtle in the long grass. Photo by Marcus Couper.

The turtles come to town

Summer rains are a cue for freshwater turtles to leave their creeks and ponds to go walkabout looking for food. The Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife is asking North Coast residents to keep an eye out for these 200 million year old reptiles as they make there way through your backyard.

“Turtles move about in groups of up to several dozen. Heavy rains trigger this migration, as can their home creek or lake drying up,” CEO of the Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife Leonie Gale said.“Turtles can walk up to a kilometre a day searching for their favourite foods: molluscs, crustaceans, tadpoles, and insects,” Ms Gale said. “However, your resident turtle may be doing more than just having a snack. It may also be planning to start a family! If so, you’ll see it dig a deep hole before laying about 10 eggs which should hatch about four months later.”

She said if you do find a turtle, be careful how you pick it up.

“Turtles are armed with defensive scent glands above each leg. They can squirt a liquid with a stinking and persistent odour. Pick them up by the shell and hold them away from you so the liquid doesn’t touch you. Whatever you do, don’t put them in the car – the smell can take months to get out of the seat covers!” she said.

Ms Gale said turtles can make an excellent pet, but there are specific requirements that must be met for them to lead a healthy life in captivity, such as access to water and land at all times. If you have turtles in your pond, place some rocks or logs around the edge so that your turtle can have some time out of the water.

You also need to obtain a reptile licence from the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water.

Turtle titbits

When the water dries up, turtles shut down and breathe only once every two or three days. During this shut down mode, turtles can slow their growth to one millimetre a decade.

Turtles are the only reptiles that have a shell built into their skeleton.

Some turtles can breathe underwater through their bottoms, especially during hibernation.

Turtles are essentially ageless. Unlike all other creatures, their organs do not break down over time, in fact, some researchers say that if a turtle does not fall victim to a predator, die in an accident or succumb to disease, they can live almost indefinitely.

How can you tell a turtle from a tortoise? Turtles have paddles or webbed feet for swimming. Tortoises have stumpy, solid feet which are far more suited to walking on land.


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