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Baby Turtles Are on the Move in Arlington

No, that’s not a small rock — just a baby turtle trying to make its way across a thoroughfare.

Turtles are out and about this spring, sometimes crossing local trails and roads. In May and June, many are leaving their nests in search of water, says Alonso Abugattas, natural resources manager for Arlington County Parks.

That’s because many kinds of baby turtles can remain in their nest during the winter. In the spring, turtles can make wild breaks to get to water, Abugattas says.

Turtles typically lay their eggs in the spring or summer, and they hatch in the late summer or fall.

“Aquatic turtle species will travel quite far from water, up to a mile in some cases, to find a place to lay eggs,” state wildlife staff say, adding there’s nothing to be alarmed about and the turtles instinctively know which direction to go.

Common kinds here include the eastern painted turtle, red-eared slider, snapping turtle, woodland box turtle and, by the river, the northern red-bellied cooter.

Woodland box turtles in particular have been in decline in Virginia with construction wiping out a lot of their territory, Abugattas says.

“We’re lucky to still have turtles around,” he says.

While you can help them cross a road if you’re comfortable doing so, they can be defensive, and people are encouraged to leave them alone, he told ARLnow.

If you’re thinking about caring for one, Abugattas points out they require a lot of attention due to special diets and other factors. Special lamps can help their heating and lighting needs. But animal experts warn that without proper care, light deficiencies can cause metabolic bone disease and deformed shells.

“Turtles don’t make good pets,” Abugattas says, no matter what cultural images like “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” might suggest.

Photo courtesy Alonso Abugattas

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