There’s a chance you’ve never seen one of Pennsylvania’s most common reptiles up close, but chances are better than ever right now.
Snapping turtles are emerging from their watery habitats in order to lay eggs on land, leading to an increase in sightings.
“As an aquatic turtle that spends most of its life under water, they still require dry land in order to nest. They may have to cross a busy roadway,” said Jesse Rothacker, a reptile educator who operates Forgotten Friend Reptile Sanctuary in Lancaster County. “They’re the most abundant of the 14 turtle species that we have here in Pennsylvania, and they’re large, so they’re easy to see when they undergo this ritual during the months of May and June.”
According to Rothacker, a female snapping turtle is capable of laying dozens of eggs at a time. The preferred habitat is loose, rocky dirt areas where a turtle can dig and bury its eggs, which will hatch several weeks later in mid to late summer.
“Take a look at what’s on the side of the roads we’re driving on. It’s loose gravel,” said Rothacker. “that can be attractive to a snapping turtle as a nesting site. Because it can take several hours to dig and lay the eggs, the female turtles can be out of the water for quite a period of time. That’s why we’re seeing them right now.”
Male snapping turtles may also emerge from the water during this season while establishing new home range, or searching for a mate. In either case, While the sight of a vulnerable turtle in the roadway may be concerning, Rothacker says people need to be aware of the risks involved in trying to move a snapping turtle.
“They have a very strong, defensive bite,” he said. “there are videos out there demonstrating how you can help a turtle off the road. One method that sometimes works is getting the turtle to bite a large stick, and then pulling it slowly off the road, for instance.”
Rothacker says he doesn’t recommend anyone who has not been trained around reptiles attempt a removal.
“But we can help them by being patient and compassionate,” said Rothacker. “I tell people, think about your mother or sister or wife during childbirth. That’s what these large turtles are gong through right now. A little compassion goes a long way.”