Did you know that Mississippi is home to more than 35 species of turtle? We have sea turtles visiting our Gulf barrier islands and beaches, box turtles in our backyards, and a variety of aquatic turtles basking in our waterways.
Late spring and early summer is peak egg-laying season for turtles from Loggerhead Sea Turtles on the front beaches to Common Snapping Turtles in your garden. Even turtles that spend the majority of their lives happily buried in the soft bottoms of our lakes and lagoons are lumbering out to lay their eggs on land. If you have observed an increase in the numbers and diversity of turtles, they are probably heading to or from their preferred egg laying site.
Turtles lay soft, leathery eggs like other reptiles and may lay as few as 4 or 5 in the case of our Gulf Coast Box Turtles to more than 100 with large Sea Turtles. Mother turtles do not nurture their young, after egg-laying, they head back to the water or burrow. Turtle eggs and hatchling turtles are a favorite snack of many species from opossums to raccoons to several species of snakes, and even ghost crabs down on the shore.
Baby turtles that do make it will chip their way out of their egg with a special egg tooth that later falls off, and make their way toward shelter where they’ll eat, try to avoid predators and cars, and slowly grow larger.
If you see a turtle on the road, and it is safe for you to do so, you can help move them in the direction they were heading. Be careful of your fingers, as turtles can snap, and do not lift turtles by their tails.
It is NOT a good idea to remove turtles from the wild as they are quite tied to the place where they hatched, often spending their entire life within a one-acre area. Turtles can spread illness such as Salmonella to humans and humans can unwittingly spread disease to captive turtles. Aquatic turtles, in particular, do not make good pets as they require natural sunlight to process some of the nutrients in their food and require a great deal of tank cleaning due to the messes they make while eating and excreting! Several of Mississippi’s turtles are threatened or endangered, and should be enjoyed with photographs and returned immediately to where they were found.
To learn more about our indigenous Jackson County wildlife, go to http://pascagoulariver.audubon.org