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Turtles on road again in search of place to hibernate, advocates say

Turtles, both land and water types, are on

Turtles, both land and water types, are on the move on Long Island looking for a place to hibernate during the winter months. A snapping turtle is shown. Credit: Suffolk County SPCA

Drivers, boaters, lawn workers, dog owners, it’s time to be on the lookout for turtles.

Seeking winter homes, big and small turtles are traversing roads and lawns at their usual slow pace, which means they are often run over by cars, trucks and lawn mowers or bitten by dogs, an advocate cautioned.

The mid-September to mid-October period is when both land and water turtles — which can breathe through special cells in their tails while hibernating — hunt for spots to stay warm and safe during the winter months, according to Karen Testa, president, Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons in Jamesport.

"They’re very vulnerable this time of year as their natural instinct is to do what they’ve done for millions of years — regardless of roads — and that is to find a safe location where they can spend the winter," Testa said in a statement.

After suffering injuries too serious to allow them to return to the wild, 44 turtles will spend the winter safely hibernating at the sanctuary. Another 95 are being rehabilitated — and must stay awake to be fed and medicated, she said.

The largest permanent resident is a 20-inch common snapping turtle that is about 50 years old, officials said. The sanctuary, which aids nearly 200 turtles a year, also has Eastern Box Turtles and Diamond Terrapins.

"These turtles will find a protected spot within their enclosures, burrow under debris and leaves, or in lakes and bays to submerge to the bottom," Testa said.

Turtles hibernate because they are reptiles and cannot rely on the sun to warm them during winter. This also boosts their immune systems and protects them from predators, including raccoons, Testa said.

"Turtles typically stop eating 10 to 14 days before they begin digging in the dirt to hibernate," she said. "Land turtles also submerge themselves in water to properly hydrate before they make their winter home a few inches below the surface of the ground." Testa said.

"Once the aquatic turtle settles in, its breathing slows down dramatically and they stop breathing through their lungs. They get oxygen through special skin cells inside their tail."

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