Tuesday, July 17, 2012

PACIFIC NORTHWEST TURTLES


There are two native freshwater turtles in the Pacific Northwest. One is very common, the other quite uncommon. The common one is the Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta), found all over the interior of the region south to northern Oregon and locally in western Washington and the Willamette Valley. Painted Turtles are seen in great numbers basking on logs and rocks in warm lakes in the summer, but they are shy and quickly slide into the water when approached.

These turtles are all omnivores, with a wide diet including water plants, insects, crayfish, fish, tadpoles, and dead animals. In some species, mating takes place in the fall, but the sperms don't approach the eggs until spring. This is called delayed fertilization and is common in temperate-zone reptiles. The females then come ashore in summer and dig a hole in the sand in which to lay their clutches of round, white eggs. The eggs may overwinter or hatch in fall, in that case the young turtles usually overwintering in the nest and emerging the following spring.

The other native freshwater turtle is the Western Pond Turtle (Actinemys marmorata). This species, once widespread in western Washington and Oregon, has disappeared from much of its range north of the Columbia River. Considered a species of special concern, much conservation effort has been expended on it. Biologists hatch turtle eggs in captivity, then release the young when they are large enough to be less vulnerable to predation. This very successful program has been going on for two decades at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo and has resulted in a present population of around 1500 turtles in the wild in Washington.

The most frequently observed turtle in much of western Washington is not one of these natives but is the introduced Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta). This species, the most common turtle in the pet trade, has been introduced all over the world. People keep the cute babies for a while, then tire of them and toss them in the nearest lake. This may be humane treatment, but it's not good for the environment, as these invasive turtles compete with native turtles and transmit diseases to them.




Two other species have turned up in Lake Washington and elsewhere, the Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) and Spiny Softshell (Apalone spinifera). These very distinctive turtles also are native to eastern North America. Both get quite large, and they live a long time and keep on growing, so there are probably a few monsters out there. They are also aggressive species that will bite fiercely, so caution is advised!

Any account of Pacific Northwest turtles should mention the marine turtles that show up in our waters. Leatherback Turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) are regular off the Washington coast. Although sea turtles are basically tropical, this is the species that ventures into colder water than the others. When seen from a pelagic birding trip, Leatherbacks usually show up as a blob in the water, only the head visible. At closer range the big ridges down the shell can often be seen. Other sea turtles, including Green (Chelonia mydas), Loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and Pacific Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) are much rarer, but a few have been found washed up on northwest beaches.

Dennis Paulson

14 comments:

Tim said...

Great blog, Dennis. I just saw a Spiny Softshell on Lake Washington today, which must have been at least 2 feet long. Just the size alone made it look more like a sea turtle than something you'd expect to see in Lake Washington.

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Anonymous said...

I am thinking about getting a little turtle and this is great info for me!!!!!!!!!! I really needed this page so thanks a lot!!!!!🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂😃😃😃😃😃😀😀😀😀😁😁😁😁😁🙃🙃🙃🙃🙃ðŸĪŠðŸĪŠðŸĪŠðŸĪŠðŸĒðŸĒðŸĒðŸĒðŸĒðŸĒðŸĒðŸĒðŸĶ„ðŸĒðŸĒðŸĒðŸĒðŸĒðŸĒ

Anonymous said...

There was a pretty nice sized painted turtle in the middle of the road near the Yakima River near between the Yakima River and Moxee (city) today. He was not moving and I was worried that someone had hit him, so I stopped the car and jumped out, as he was near new construction and had a fence between the turtle and a creek. Picked him up and drove him away from the construction and placed him by the creek. He seemed healthy and took off into the water. He was easily twice the size of my hand and I am a decent sized fellow... I was trying to identify him so I dropped by here. Great article.

Unknown said...

I saw a snapping turtle years ago while fishing from a float tube in banks lake.

Unknown said...

My friend and I were walking along our local dike trail on April 14 2020 when we spied several turtles sunbathing along the far bank. We were unable to get good closeup pics of them since we only had our phones, but I hope to see them again soon.
Carolyn in Longview, WA

flanagan said...

while fishing the green river outside enumclaw few years back, my friends nephew said wow look at that turtle! since i love turtles and never seen one up close in nature i ran over. it was underwater right at the edge of the river, and i reached down and grabbed it. to my disbelief it was a massive snapping turtle!!!! in the green river???? one, what is that species doing over here, and two, what’s it doing way up the green almost to the howard hanson dam! mind blown, took pics and let him go back to whatever he was doing. called wildlife dept and left message but never heard anything back. weird!

E Powicke said...

Saw what I take to be a spiny soft shell turtle in Carp Inlet, Union Bay Natural Area. It was enormous. Climbed out onto a log with other turtles which it climbed on top of. I’d say about 20 to 24 inches diameter. Three or four times bigger than the other turtles. Bright yellow on it underside. This was yesterday, May 14th, 2020.

Steven said...

Found a fairly colorful one about 6" long in the foothills east of Duvall. The natives are just brown, so this must be an exotic (pet), right?

Unknown said...

I know this is probably not appropriate but however i am in search of some help. I have a female red eared slider and she has just outgrown her tank, i just dont have the time since i had a baby, nor do i have space for her anymore. If anyone knows of anyone who has a pond or a large setup and would like to have her please call me. I dont want her to go to a bad home or a wild pond, since she would not know how to survive. I dont know who to turn to and dont want her to be unhappy and alone anymore. Like i said i know this is probably not appropriate but i am just thinking about her wellbeing. Please only honest and turtle lovers only inquire. Please reply back to this post for my info if u have any suggestions.thank you.

Unknown said...

We have a big painted turtle living in the Lake by our house here in Packwood...

Unknown said...

Did you have any luck rehoming your turtle baby?

Anonymous said...

Can you tell me if people are suppose to redirect turtles away from playfields or roads? There was a large turtle...12 inch or so shell crawling across the soccer field away from water...last year I met another turtle going towards Lake Washington Blvd...both times when I turned them around, they seemed to have their own ideas about where they wanted to go and just turned back again....do you know of a website where one can learn about the turtles in Lake Washington? I love them and know nothing about them? Thank you!

Unknown said...

I am actually going to buy a red eared turtle but if you're trying to re home one I would be very intrested just because of it being larger and I have a beautiful pond area it would love if you'd like to reply to me my number is 5034000528 in my name is Tanya