Wood Turtle in the Bus

Earlier this month we processed our first wood turtle intake of 2021. While not yet on the threatened species list, wood turtles are of special concern in New York due to their declining numbers.

wood turtle shown from front with head tucked in, eyes swollen, metal tape and white cream on shell

Wood turtles are semi-aquatic and live in streams in woodland areas. They are the only freshwater turtle native to the Adirondacks that can eat out of the water, and will forage for berries, mushrooms, slugs, and worms in the woods. Although the woods is their preferred habitat, wood turtles get their name from their rich brown carapace, which has rings that look like wood grain. Their necks and legs sport bright orange patches.

Our wood turtle patient survived getting hit by a car and, luckily, avoided a broken spine and a skull fracture. We suspected both during our intial examination, but x-rays at the vet showed that was not the case. Her carapace crack is stable and healing. We are also treating an eye infection that has so far kept her eyes swollen closed, but we are hopeful it will resolve with time.

The wood turtle will be wintering over with us, along with a number of painted turtles and snapping turtles. Our supply needs are double what they were last winter. You can help us give these turtles a safe place to heal with donations from our Amazon Wish List. Thank you!

Baby Turtle Time

We’ve been having hatch parties in our incubators!

snapping turtles hatching

Snapping turtles emerging from their eggs

During the month of August, almost 50 turtles hatched from eggs that had been incubated. Some of those eggs were recovered from nests in construction sites. The rest were laid by gravid turtles who came into our wildlife rehabilition center after being injured by cars. Those injured mother turtles were chemically induced to lay their eggs so they would no longer struggle to escape to finish their egg-laying mission and could relax and heal.

painted turtle hatchling held in hand

A newly hatched painted turtle

We successfully hatched one clutch of midland painted turtle eggs and five clutches of common snapping turtle eggs, with one late clutch still incubating. The earlier hatching snapping turtles will be released soon. The remainder of the hatchlings will spend the winter in our headstart program and will be released in the late spring. Those headstarted turtles will be bigger than their wild hatched counterparts, who often go directly into hibernation after they hatch, which will improve their chances of survival. All of our hatchlings are released near where the eggs or their mothers were found. We hope these small turtles will help those turtle populations to continue to thrive.

painted turtle hatchling in water under leaves

Our nursery tanks include lots of places for tiny hatchlings to hide

Each clutch of turtles requires a tank with a gravel substrate arranged to vary the water depth in different parts of the tank, as well as greenery to hide under and places to bask. Each tank is equipped with a gentle water filter, a heat lamp, and a UVB lamp. The hatchlings are fed a combination of live food such as small mealworms or earthworms, pieces of fish, and commercial turtle food designed for healthy growth. As they age, we may divide clutches into separate containers to reduce competition until we can transfer them into larger enclosures outside. After a few weeks in spring spent adjusting to sunlight and changing weather conditions, our hatchlings will be ready to take their place in the wild.

Check back for updates this winter to see how these babies are growing.

Neverending Turtle Season

midland painted turtle with supporting tape and cream on broken shell soaking in a tub of shallow water

The northeastern part of the United States has had cool, wet weather throughout the summer so far. Whether it is due to high water levels in the lakes and ponds or the low overnight temperatures, our local turtles are behaving differently post nesting season. An unusual number of turtles, particularly males, are venturing onto the roads. Unfortunately, many are getting hit by cars.

We are still receiving injured turtles for care. Some of their injuries are intensive, and even minor injuries might require overwintering because the latest safe release date is only six weeks away.

The large number of patients has challenged our wildlife rehabilitation service to expand quickly. We are meeting the challenge thanks to our supporters who have donated equipment and supplies from our Amazon wishlist. Thank you!

Snapping Turtle Summer

The wildlife rehabilitation arm of our organization has never been as busy as we are this summer, and we have never had as many snapping turtles as we have currently. Snapping turtles can, of course, be a bit more challenging to care for than other turtle species, but we love them.

a snapping turtle with first aid cream on its shell, head lifted looking at camera

Small snapping turtle George is one of this springs intakes with head trauma.

Snapping turtles have a bad reputation due to their orneriness when they are out of water, but most of the time you might swim right by one without ever knowing they were there. If you look, you might see one half buried in the mud at the bottom of a creek or floating in a lake catching some rays on a sunny day. They have excellent camouflage, though, so they are not so easily spotted.

Snapping turtles are like all freshwater turtles and lay their eggs on land. To do so, they frequently must cross roads and are often the victims of careless drivers. Because their anatomy is different than a “typical” turtle in that they are unable to tuck their heads into their shells, when a car approaches, they tend to snap at it. As a result, many snapping turtles that come into rehabilitation arrive with some type of head injury. We can medicate to reduce pain and inflammation but, like human concussions, head trauma heals slowly even when not complicated by superficial facial wounds.

Snapping turtles frequently require long-term care and always need significantly larger housing than their smaller cousins. We are grateful for the contributions of 100-gallon stock tanks we have received this year. We were able to help more snapping turtles because we had them.

Because the wounds have larger surface areas, we go through first aid supplies quickly. Our supporters have gifted many items off of our Amazon wishlist this year, which has been amazing. Thank you so much for your donations! They are getting us through this snapping turtle summer.

Meet Grace, Rescue Turtle Ambassador

Grace arrived at Dancing Turtle Rescue just as the calendar was flipping to 2021 with Frankie, a yellow-bellied slider, and Leaf, an Asian leaf turtle. Grace is a Florida cooter, and all three turtles were being kept in crowded housing by caring folks who were unable to better provide for them. Many of our pet rescue turtles come with sad stories. Grace was one of those.

Grace and Frankie were sharing a small tank without much room to move, and Frankie became aggressive and bit Grace’s shell, which broke off the sections of shell above her back legs. When we took her in, that part of her shell was raw and bleeding.

rescue ambassador large cooter turtle sitting on pile of rocks back leg stretched out as if practicing yoga

Grace stretching into a yoga pose

We separated the turtles and placed Grace in a dry tub to keep the injured shell out of water while we treated it. Grace, we guess because of the trauma of being trapped with Frankie, panicked in the tub and struggled to escape. She only remained calm when she was on the floor, so we laid down a towel and clipped a heat lamp above it. Grace slept and basked on the towel, climbed into a low pan of water to eat and hydrate, and spent the rest of the day exploring our house. We often found her sharing a sunbeam with one of our cats, napping on the dog bed, or hiding under furniture.

When she isn’t caring for turtles, Debbie teaches yoga classes online. Her virtual studio is in the room where Grace’s towel and, later, her custom escapable tub are. While she sometimes joins Debbie on her mat, most often Grace is just off camera, “practicing” along with the class under her basking lamp.

Grace is very friendly and willing to have her shell and feet touched, which makes her an excellent ambassador for the rescue turtles. Her shell is healing but will probably never grow back completely, but we love her as she is. Grace will be staying with us.

We have many other turtles who are ready to be adopted. Please visit our rescue page and meet some.

The Turtle Bus Is Really a Bus

When Debbie told her husband about her desire to rehabilitate turtles, he looked around their already crowded house and asked, “Where are you going to put them?” It was a legitimate question, and one that Debbie had been asking herself. Then she looked out the window and remembered the bus.

teenager on a ladder applying caulk to an old school bus

Debbie’s teenaged son helped get the bus ready by sealing leaks.

Why was there a bus in her yard?

The bus was parked in Debbie’s side yard by her then just barely twenty-year-old daughter. She had purchased the stripped-out retired school bus and drove it 600 miles to home with the intention of creating a tiny home on wheels for herself. Life happened, and the bus stayed parked in the side yard with some of the wall framing complete and a pile of materials in the garage.

Since almost everything was on hand, and with their daughter’s permission, Debbie and her husband completed the interior walls, laid some sheet vinyl flooring, and ran a heavy-duty extension cord to power lights and heat. And so the turtle bus came to be.

man laying sheet vinyl flooring in an old school bus

The vinyl sheet flooring was installed on a dark, early spring night so it would be ready before the first squirrels arrived.

The first critters in the bus each year are orphaned squirrels who are released into the woods behind the house when they are old enough. Many stay nearby and make regular visits to the edge of the woods, which is now known affectionately as Squirrelandia. By late spring, though, the turtle bus is occupied almost exclusively by turtles.

Injured turtles need care.

Most of the turtles in our care have been hit by cars.  We also treat turtles who have been chewed on by dogs and some who have been hooked by or entangled in fishing gear. Once their broken shells are stabilized, they begin the process of healing. Some heal quickly and are able to be released back into their wild homes within weeks. For other turtles, healing is a long, slow process that may take a year or more. We provide care as long as it takes to give each turtle a chance to become healthy and whole again.

turtle rehabilitation clinic in an old school bus

As soon as the turtle bus was ready, it started to fill up. We have made improvements each year and now we can house up to 12 turtles.

Wildlife rehabilitators, no matter what species they specialize in, all have the same struggle – we have more love than money. While we are licensed and monitored by our state wildlife agencies, we get no funding, supplies, or equipment from them. We are all volunteers and most, like Dancing Turtle Rescue, are home based. We are blessed to be part of an organized local network, North Country Wild Care, which fundraises as a group to purchase and supply things like specialized formula for the many orphans our members raise, from squirrels to birds to opossums to deer, and provides veterinary support and medication for injured and ill animals, including our turtles.

Supplies and equipment are needed!

Turtles have specialized housing requirements. Once they enter long-term care, each needs a filter system to keep the water clean and moving, a platform to get out of the water and bask, a heat lamp to warm the basking spot, and a full spectrum UV light to replace the sunlight they are missing. These are essential for any turtle’s health, but especially for turtles who have lost blood, are fighting infection, and are trying to grow new tissue. Even with the most inexpensive options, each complete setup costs over $100. Afterwards, filter cartridges must be changed every other week, heat and UV bulbs burn out, and everyone needs to eat. And we go through first aid supplies very quickly during the critical first few weeks after a turtle is injured.

Please help us help the turtles.

Can you help us help the turtles? We have a wishlist on Amazon for Dancing Turtle Rescue for needed supplies, food, and equipment. You can purchase any item on the list, and have it sent to us as a gift. (You will get double karma points if you use Amazon Smile and select North Country Wild Care as the beneficiary.)

We have gotten this far only because of generous donations and we are immensely grateful for everyone who has helped. Thank you!