University of Maryland Extension

Turtles

red-eared slider

Of all the reptiles, turtles are the most familiar and well-liked. They are slow moving, with a quiet disposition (except for the snapping turtle). Most can live a very long time. Several species of turtles live in Maryland. Terrestrial species (land dwellers) include the eastern box turtle and wood turtle. Aquatic species spend most of their time in or near water. These include the following: the eastern painted turtle, spotted turtle, bog turtle (very rare), red-bellied turtle, red-eared slider (see above photo), and very aquatic species: mud turtle, musk turtle, spiny soft-shell, snapping turtle, and the diamond back terrapin (salt and brackish water). All turtles lay their eggs in the ground in the spring, around May or June. The clutch size depends on the species and size of the turtle, from 2 eggs for the mud turtle to as many as 50 for the large snapping turtle. The eggs incubate in the warm soil and typically hatch in the fall. The most commonly encountered turtle in the home landscape in suburban and rural areas is the eastern box turtle. Box turtles are black or brown with yellow or orange patterns on the carapace (upper shell). They are named box turtles because they can close up tight when frightened. Box turtles can live to 100 years. Box turtles are known to live their entire life within an area a little larger than a football field. Countless numbers of all turtle species are killed on roads. Drivers should watch for them and try to avoid hitting them. If possible, and if it is safe to pull off, turtles in the road should be placed off the road in the direction that they were heading.

Aquatic species such as painted turtles, spotted turtles and snapping turtles will occasionally be found in back yards or roads some distance from water. The males often migrate from pond to pond, and large female snapping turtles will travel a significant distance from water to lay eggs. Snapping turtles are dark brown, and often covered with algae. They can grow to be very large, with a shell length up to 20 inches. They have large heads with powerful jaws and can strike out to bite at a very fast speed. They have a long tail that resembles a small alligator's tail. Snapping turtles when on land can be very dangerous. Avoid them completely. They will soon leave.

Turtles typically do no harm to plants or people. Occasionally, box turtles will eat low-growing tomatoes and melons, but this small amount of damage can be tolerated. If necessary, construct a fence around a vegetable garden to keep them out.

Photo Gallery

box turtlesnapping turtle
Eastern box turtleJuvenile snapping turtle
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