What do we do with this poor turtle?
May 14, 2016 6:49 AM   Subscribe

Found a turtle in a parking lot yesterday afternoon. Can't figure out what to do with the poor thing. Please read the entire post if you want to offer advice.

I found what I believe is a painted turtle crossing the parking lot in the Hagerstown Premium Outlets complex in Hagerstown, MD yesterday. 

He walked in front of my car and would have walked into the path of another car going the other way if I hadn't hopped out and gotten him. The area where I found him is a giant complex of parking lots and malls. There did not appear to be any nearby safe place to put him. I took him home to try to figure out what kind of turtle he is and where he belongs.

I posted for help on a facebook turtle group and was very unimpressed with the response. Multiple people just said to put him back where I found him, which would virtually guarantee he'll be run over by a car.

One person advised me to put him in the nearest safe place in the direction he was headed, but all that is in that direction is more pavement and buildings, then a tree line, then a field, etc. No turtle-friendly terrain. 

Someone else pointed out that there are wooded areas to the east, but these do not appear to have any ponds in them, and are only accessible by crossing multiple lanes of highway.

My family is now wondering if he was an abandoned pet.

I am afraid to release him into a pond not in the vicinity of where I found him, because I read online that one shouldn't release a turtle into an unfamiliar environment. They may endanger themselves by crossing roads trying to go home.

I do know of some local ponds (not in Hagerstown but in Frederick) including one that is well away from any roads. But I've never seen a turtle in any of these ponds.

We can't keep him since we already have a dog and a bird and wouldn't be able to devote the time to giving him a good home. And rescue organizations don't seem to accept this type of turtle. 

I've contacted a couple of reptile rescue places in MD, waiting to hear back but it's the weekend. Would like to help this critter sooner than later as he's currently just hanging out in a cooking pot, won't eat, and we have no aquarium or terrarium.

So my questions are:
1. Is he in fact a painted turtle? Here's his mug shot: https://imageshack.us/i/po2XJvRzj

2. Is there any way to determine if he's a pet or wild?

3. What do you think is the best way to either release or rehome him that makes it most likely he'll survive and thrive?
posted by mysterious_stranger to Pets & Animals (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Found online:
Painted turtles are the most widely distributed turtle in North America. They live in permanent freshwater habitats such as ponds, lakes, marshes, sloughs, and creeks. They spend time in the soft bottoms of these bodies of water as well as in the aquatic vegetation and in sunny basking spots on or near the water.

I would try to find a spot near both grass (i.e. not woods) and water, and let him go. If his turtle-foo is going to take him awandering, there isn't much you can do about it.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:58 AM on May 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

You say you don't want to release it back on the path it was heading because you don't think there are ponds there, but you also don't want to release it at a pond you know of because it wouldn't be familiar with those ponds. At some point you need to trust that turtles have survived for a very long time without us and pick one of those options. Animals are much smarter than you're giving them credit for.
posted by one_bean at 7:18 AM on May 14, 2016 [9 favorites]

Looks like a painted turtle to me. One plausible source would be the ornamental pond on the property of the Review and Herald Publishing Association just west of the outlets? It's certainly a large enough pond to support a painted turtle. If the line of trees and field that you mention are the line of trees and field to the west, that seems even more plausible. If all that lines up with where you found him and where he seemed to be going, I'd go ahead and drive up the drive of the property and quickly deposit him in that pond this weekend. In the unlikely even that someone is on the property and asks you what you're doing, just say you found the turtle minutes ago on the road outside the entrance.
posted by drlith at 7:23 AM on May 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

I believe that is a painted turtle (I used to have one) and if so, he may only be able to swallow underwater, and he will prefer bugs to greens. As a test, put him in a wide, shallow container of room temp water (2-3 inches deep- just enough that he can stand on the bottom and still get his head out) and toss a couple of live bugs in there (soft-bodied bugs like earthworms, ants, and spiders are good). If he likes that, you can leave him in some water while you figure out how to re-home him, but make him a sturdy large rock that he can crawl out and rest on so he can relax from swimming, too. Also he'll appreciate a bit of warm light pointed in one area of his habitat (an incandescent bulb, not too close and not too hot) so he can choose to bask and warm up.
If he does well in some water I think it would be OK to set him free in a pond.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:46 AM on May 14, 2016

Ps, If he's in a box or tank, do keep him in the house overnight and when you can't supervise him- if he can't swim away he is very vulnerable to predator animals like raccoons or foxes.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:52 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Around here, it's common to see turtles crossing roads. I don't know what propels them, but I imagine a turtle might just try again if returned whence he/she came.

I'd release your turtle in terrain comparable to that it apparently left to begin its walkabout. An isolated area would reduce the chances of it getting onto a road again, of course.

Some newly adult animals go venturing to look for territory they can call their own. Male bears, for example. Perhaps turtles do the same.
posted by justcorbly at 8:07 AM on May 14, 2016

From drlith's map, the pond at the publishing association looks nice. It looks like there is also a wet area (probably a stormwater retention pond) to the east of the parking lots next to the Exxon. Either of those seem like a good guess at where your turtle lives and where it will probably be happiest.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:08 AM on May 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

She may have been nesting. See here for adorable baby turtle photo and more information about sexing your specimen.
posted by maggieb at 11:38 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yep, you've got a Painted turtle! The reddish swirls on the side of the shell and line/spot pattern on the head help with ID.

Am a Naturalist, Not your Naturalist, etc.: This turtle has a fairly healthy looking shell, which leads me to think that it is a wild turtle. The shell is smooth, with only a few close-together growth lines on each scute (shell segment). Pet turtles that have been lost/released often have shell pyramiding due to diet and environmental stresses. Disclaimer: that's link to a photo and forum of a turtle with a deformed shell.

On the not-eating front, pseudostrabismus is right, Turtle needs to have water [and preferably be partially submerged in water] to swallow. He/she will also probably do ok not eating for a few days, that is common in the wild.

If you can wait to hear from your local turtle rehab organizations, that will probably put you more at ease. Be prepared for them to tell you to put it back, some other users have suggested possible spots.

Good luck!
posted by Guess What at 11:57 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Weston the turtle was released in the pond/marsh area by the Exxon today. We didn't even see that area yesterday (we were also distracted because when I was driving my mom was having a diabetic emergency and we needed to find food for her).

It is not very visible from the road because it has steep sides/embankments. It is fenced but the bottom of the fencing doesn't touch the ground in many places. I hope Weston doesn't go exploring in the parking lot again :( I didn't see any other turtles there but there were ducks and ducklings, and lots of marshy areas that probably contain bugs.

Thanks for the suggestions, and for the help sexing him and determining that he is in fact a wild turtle.

Oh also, he wouldn't eat ants when he was swimming around my cooking pot. He never did appreciate any of the cuisine I tried to share with him.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 3:48 PM on May 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

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