Summer Time is Turtle Time

Can a turtle continue to live, if the top of its shell has been shaved off its body by a car?”

I’ll have to admit, that’s a new question for me. I mean really, how often does that come up? I’ve enlisted the help and wisdom of some turtle loving friends to educate us all about some common, and not so common turtle questions. Here are some tips and advice for helping turtles this summer.

Let’s start with the poor turtle missing it’s back. It’s a difficult question to answer without seeing the animal. The turtle shell grows as a series of scales, much like a fish. Just underneath the scales is skin, followed by ribs, then muscle. Scraping a hole smaller than, say, an inch could probably heal on its own. The biggest issue, as long is there is no nerve or broken bones, is infection.

A larger hole than that, it’s best to take the turtle to a vet. There they can give it antibiotics and apply a fiberglass bandage to allow the scales to heal. Sort of similar to patching a hole in the side of your boat. For you do-it-yourselfers out there, I’d still recommend enlisting the help of a vet or Wildlife Rehabber. Mark Payne, of Avian Haven, says that they can patch up a turtle no problem if you need help. I’d recommend visiting them first, before venturing to the hardware store.

Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Turtle Image

A healthy reminder form Maine’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Should I help turtles cross the road?”

Yes. Most turtles this time of year are just out looking for a place to lay their eggs. Unfortunately for them, that means crossing lots of roads, and lots of dead turtles. You can help turtles out by driving slow in the summer, and pulling over and helping the turtles cross safely to the other side.

Some turtles don’t start laying until they hit sexual maturity. For snappers, that could take 20+ years before the new offspring enter the population! Without a doubt, cars are one of the turtles biggest hurdles to expanding their populations.

If a turtle has just been hit, you can check to see if there are any eggs inside of her. If it’s a female, she’s probably looking for place to lay. If there are eggs, you can remove them from the body cavity and relocate them to continue the life cycle. Continue reading for tips on egg wrangling and moving.

I have a turtle that’s laying eggs in my yard/garden/driveway etc. What can I do?”

You pretty much have three options.

1. Leave them alone. If things go well, you’ll have baby turtles to watch! (In about 2-3 months)

2. If you’ve decided to leave them be, good for you. Now let’s protect them! Put some stiff fencing or wire around the nest site to keep out predators like skunks and raccoons. 90% of egg predation happens in the first few weeks of incubation by these furbearers.

3. Eggs are in the driveway? Or among your award-winning tomatoes? Smack dab in the middle of your golf course? I get it. Let’s allow the mother to lay all her eggs and then move along. The eggs can then safely be dug up and relocated. The best places to relocate to are a sandy area, in full sun, as close to the water body as possible that the mother likely came from.

If this isn’t an option, wildlife rehabbers like Mark at Avian Haven utilize incubators for hatching turtles. They may even have advice for DIY incubators, but check with them first.

Important: If relocating/moving turtle eggs, DO NOT TURN THEM. Place a small dot on the leathery shell so you can tell which end is up. Be careful, the shell is soft and you can puncture it. Keep the eggs from rolling. If they are turned, the embryos may fail to develop properly.

Photo credit goes out to April Jackson Potvin. Wonderful shot of a mother laying in an awkward area.

Photo credit goes out to April Jackson Potvin. Wonderful shot of a mother laying in an awkward area-right next to the middle school!


Are turtle eggs as delicious to eat as chicken eggs?”

Possibly. But they are loaded with mercury and lead. Here’s a case where “Wild Game”, “Organic”, or “Natural”, don’t necessarily equate with good quality healthy choices. Turtle populations have a lot of challenges stacked against them.

-Slow maturity.

-High predation to eggs and young. Kris recounts tracking baby turtles that had just hatched. Many of the little guys were found later to be eaten by bass! Other predators include the raccoons again, a Blue Heron, and even a chipmunk!

-A fragmented wilderness with a modern obstacle: cars.

In short, don’t eat turtles. It’s bad for your health. You could get higher benefit, and be of greater service to the common good, by helping out the four-legged creatures now and again.

Special thanks to:

Kris Hoffmann, PhD student at the University of Maine


 Mark Payne, Wildlife Rehabilitator at Avian Haven in Freedom, Maine

for their time and expertise helping on this blog.

Recommended Posts
Showing 4 comments
  • Jennifer Bricker

    Dr. Leighton at Penobscot Veterinary Services does a lot with turtles, especially with broken shells. She is a great resource.

    • randy

      Thanks so much, it’s good to have contacts available for folks if they run into problems and need some help!

  • Emir

    Adopting a turtle is a great way to help make sure more of these sciepes live in our oceans today. Besides that we should also do our best by keeping our oceans clean so that these animals have the right environment to thrive. Throwing plastic bags into the ocean for example is bad for these turtles as these animals will try to eat the plastic which is mistaken for jellyfish.

    • randy

      What are sciepes Emir?

Leave a Comment