Down the Road a Piece

By MILT GROSS | Jun 22, 2014
Photo by: Dolores Bernier A painted turtle charges across our lawn.

Saving the turtle

Last week Dolores did what she has never done before, saved a turtle.

She saved the same painted turtle a few days later from the same fate, being run over while it galloped across the road.

Then this week, tackling ever larger game, she rescued a snapping turtle from the same fate of being run over while either crossing or napping in the sun on the road. I had earlier warned my good ex-New Yorker wife to not pick up any large turtles, because they could be snappers.

She heeded my advice and rescued it with a shovel. Mr. Snapper grabbed hold of the shovel, and Mrs. Dolores pulled it across the road where it would be safe from speeding vehicles.

Speeding vehicles and our road don’t exactly go together, as the speed limit here is 35 miles per hour -- for vehicles, not turtles. We haven’t seen a police officer enforcing that speed limit, since I had invited one to park in our dooryard a couple of years ago. That officer had parked, chatted with me a few moments, and, as I walked to the house, took off after the first speeder.

None since. The police sit at the same variety of locations throughout our town, not near our house, of course, where those motorists in the know carefully slow so as to not become victims of speed enforcement.

So the turtles have to tread carefully -- or be aided by Dolores.

Why they want to cross the street in the first place remains a mystery, unless, as I suggested above, they really want to nap in the warm sun on the road. Guess turtle moms don’t teach their offspring not to cross the road by themselves -- or to look both ways before they do.

One thing about our turtles may be saving them from our indoor (when it rains/outdoor cat when its warm and sunny), is that they don’t run from Tom. Tom loves to chase little things that run from him. Once he caught a red squirrel, and Dolores made him let it go. He, Tom, not the squirrel, gave Dolores a dirty look. Why was she spoiling his fun?

One turtle I encountered gave me a bout of nervousness. I was walking on a path across an open field in Acadia National Park, when I came across a giant snapper blocking the way. I asked it to get out of the way. It ignored me in a way only turtles can. So, I tiptoed around it, leaving a good four feet between my walking shoes and Mr. Snapper. He eyed me as I went around him, but he didn’t charge or even growl.

Maybe snappers can’t growl.

On another heroic occasion, I stopped my car on Eagle Lake Road on Mount Desert Island, and helped a snapper finish crossing the road. I can’t recall what tool I used, but he did finish his across-road trek. I got back in the car and continued. I noticed during that turtle-saving adventure, that other cars slowed and kind of eased past. They knew the dangers involved had that snapper grabbed their cars and bitten down.

Yesterday, when I was having my watch battery replaced, the jeweler, who lives on our road, told me there are lots of turtles in the woods alongside our road. They come from the pond down in the woods, he said.

Okay, so where have they been hiding all the years we’ve lived here?

The jeweler also told me he picks up snappers -- brave guy -- by touching their noses with something besides his finger, and when they pull their nose in they become somehow paralyzed. He then just picks them up and moves them.

Has anyone ever thought of starting a moving turtle business?

Just to show I know how to do research on the internet, I looked up turtles and found the animal planet site, animalplanet.com. Below I have copied sections of several of those paragraphs about turtles. After I read them, I commented to myself, “I didn’t know that.”

Did you?

“The shell, which is made up of about 50 different bones, actually is an evolutionary modification of the rib cage and part of the vertebral column. And contrary to what you may have seen in animated cartoons, a chelonian can't take off its shell and crawl out of it -- just as you couldn't dismantle your own spine and ribs, according to the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.

“Shells have nerves embedded in them and a blood supply as well, so if a chelonian's shell is injured, it may bleed and feel pain.

“In September 1968, the Soviet Union launched the space probe Zond 5 on a mission to orbit the moon and test conditions as a prelude to a possible lunar mission by cosmonauts. In addition to a life-size human mannequin equipped with radiation detectors, the spacecraft carried a number of living passengers, including a pair of Russian tortoises that newspaper reports initially described as "turtles." After a week in space, Zond 5 returned to Earth and, despite a failure of crucial altitude detectors, successfully splashed down in the Indian Ocean.

“Along with the other creatures, the tortoises were rescued and brought back to the Soviet Union for study. The Soviets revealed that the tortoises had lost about 10 percent of their body weight, and showed an "excessive content" of glycogen and iron in their liver tissue and some changes in their spleens. Otherwise, though, the tortoises remained active and showed no loss of appetite, according to NASA.

“The alligator snapping is the biggest freshwater turtle in North America. It can grow to 2.5 feet long, can weigh as much as 200 pounds, and has powerful jaws, a sharply-hooked beak, nasty bearlike claws and a muscular tail. The alligator snapping turtle does eat some aquatic plants, but it's mostly a carnivore that dines on a variety of smaller creatures -- fish, frogs, snakes, worms, clams, crayfish and even other turtles.

“The alligator snapping turtle catches prey by way of a fiendishly clever evolutionary adaptation: an appendage to its tongue that, when wriggled, looks an awful lot like a worm, according to the Saint Louis Zoo. A fish who gets fooled by the turtle's tongue will swim right into range of the hungry predator's jaws.

“Chelonians can make sounds by swallowing or by forcing air out of their lungs, and some species emit unique noises. The red-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria), a South American species, makes a series of clucks that sound like a chicken. Male Travancore tortoises (Indotestudo forstenii) in Southeast Asia emit a high-pitched whine that sounds like an electric motor when they're seeking mates. The giant musk turtle (Staurotypus salvinii), which is found in Central America, is known for yelping like a dog when it's startled or being attacked.

“But the weirdest sound is made by nesting female leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea), who make a distinctly unladylike noise that resembles a human belching, according to the book Turtles: An Extraordinary Natural History 245 Years in the Making.”

And how’s this for romance?

“Turtles and tortoises possess an extremely keen sense of smell. According to Turtles: An Extraordinary Natural History 245 Years in the Making, males apparently can detect the scent of pheromones, a type of identifying chemical, that is secreted inside a female's cloaca. Chelonians rely on scent so heavily that a male red-footed tortoise once was observed trying to mount a head of lettuce that a female had just climbed over, according to the book Behavior of Exotic Pets.”

There’s more, but I ran out of wonder -- and chuckles, so I stopped copying here.

If you want to read more, go to animalplanet.com. Or, if you want to see more, go out in the yard, as did Dolores, and find yourself a turtle or a tortoise.

Don’t worry, they won’t gallop away.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at lesstraveledway@roadrunner.com.

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2014

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