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Do turtles burrow in the ground for winter? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Do turtles burrow in the ground for winter?

Q: Do turtles burrow in the ground for winter?

Lewis – Lincoln, VT

A: One of the oldest reptile groups on planet earth, cold-blooded turtles are distinguished by a bony shell that acts like a super-powerful shield to protect them from predators. Like birds and reptiles, turtles lay their eggs on land and breathe air—but they can spend long periods of time underwater, surfacing at regular intervals to fill their lungs with oxygen.

These terrapins do a great job taking care of themselves (and have been for the past 200 million years!), but if you have turtles in your pond or lake, you can be a gracious host by understanding some basic facts about them.

Wintertime Signs

They don’t use a calendar, but turtles know when it’s time to cozy down for the winter. They use the air and water temperature as a gauge, which triggers their instinctual behavioral and physiological hibernation. Typically, this happens when temperatures reach 50 degrees Fahrenheit or so.

Holing Up for the Season

Though they carry a home-sweet-home on their backs, certain types of turtles do hole up for the winter season—literally. Depending on the turtle type, some species, like box turtles, will burrow in the sediment in the bottom of your pond and hibernate for the winter, while others will swim to lower pond levels to escape ice cover. This innate behavior keeps them safe, in most cases, until temperatures warm again.

Slowed Metabolism, No Appetite

Like fishes and other cold-blooded critters, turtles’ metabolisms slow when temperatures get cold. This physiological change means that they require very little oxygen and food. In fact, their hearts will slow to just a few beats every few minutes! They are also able to take in miniscule amounts of oxygen through specialized skin cells.

Privacy, Please

To keep your turtles under cover and safe from predators during the long winter, you can add some pond dye, like Pond Logic® Pond Dye, to your pond. The blue or black coloring not only camouflages the turtles, but it also shades the pond, eliminates cloudy water, and cuts down on excess nutrients and odor.

Pond Talk: What do you do to support the turtle population in your lake or pond?

Shade & Protect Your Pond - Pond Logic® Pond Dye

I’ve heard a lot about snapping turtles. Are they good for a pond or should just remove them? – Ponds & Lakes Q & A

I’ve heard a lot about snapping turtles. Are they good for a pond or should just remove them?

I’ve heard a lot about snapping turtles. Are they good for a pond or should just remove them? George – Duck, NC

Ponds tend to attract all types of creatures to your yard, some more desirable than others. With their large claws and strong jaws, snapping turtles may make the list of animals you don’t want in your pond. It all really boils down to why you dug your pond in the first place and how you spend your time enjoying it.

The snapping turtle is the largest turtle in the United States, living 30 years on average, their shells growing to around 15 inches, and normally reaching weights of 10 to 35 pounds. The largest common snapping turtle on record being nearly 20 inches long and weighing 86 pounds. It is believed some species of snapping turtles can live up to 150 years with some reports of snappers have been found with musket rounds lodged inside them from the American Civil War.

Snapping turtles tend to inhabit the shallow areas of your pond and will feed off of both plants and animals limited only to what they can fit in their mouths. If you have prized fish or encourage Geese and Ducks to raise hatchlings in your pond you may find snapping turtles to be a major inconvenience. These turtles rarely surface in the pond to bask in the sun and instead are commonly found buried at the bottom of the pond with only their head exposed. Because they are too big to actually hide inside their shell the snapping turtle relies on his sharp beak-like mouth for protection. Their neck is extremely flexible and is able to reach over their shells to protect their hind legs and tail. While their size and power may be intimidating they are not usually aggressive in the water. Rather than attack and bite potential threats they prefer to swim away and hide. That being said, there is no guarantee that you won’t accidentally provoke one of these snappers. If you swim in your pond you may not want to keep the snappers around.

If you have a natural pond and have no intentions of swimming or any special attachment to particular fish or frogs in the water there is no reason why these turtles can’t be a part of the scenery. They can help balance fish populations and are absolutely amazing to look at if you can spot a large one moving around your pond. If you decide that they need to find a new home you can remove them by installing a Turtle Trap. You can bait the trap with fish or meat from your home and place the trap in the shallow areas of your pond. You don’t want the turtle to drown so keep the top of the cage exposed and out of the water. When you catch a turtle be sure to use thick working gloves to protect your hands from potential bites or scratches. Pull the cage from the pond and transport the turtle to another location. As they are known to travel far distances over land you will want to relocate them a few miles away from your pond or they may find their way back. Never try to catch snapping turtles using hooks as they tend to swallow food whole. If they ingest a hook you will be unable to remove it and possibly injure the turtle.

POND TALK: Did you find snapping turtles in your pond? Do you love them or hate them and why?

Keep those fish safe from predators!

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