All nine species of Minnesota's turtles can be found on the Mississippi

Posted: Thursday, June 21, 2001

WINONA, Minn. (AP) -- They are hard to miss, lined up on logs like reptilian river monitors. Their shells, shiny and glistening or baked dull with a coat of dried mud, catch the sun as they slip off a log and disappear with plopping splashes.

A few may come back up for air, just their noses and eyes breaking the surface to scan for danger before sinking back out of sight.

The Mississippi River is a place for turtles, for the same reasons it's a place for fishes and birds -- expansive, diverse and abundant habitat and food.

Nine species of turtles live in Minnesota, and all of them can be found in the Mississippi River. The most common are the painted and map turtles. Most rare are the wood and Blanding's, classified as threatened species in Minnesota. Two others are of special concern -- the smooth softshell and the snapping turtle.

For some, like all three of the map turtles -- common, false and Ouachita -- the Mississippi River near Winona is their stronghold in Minnesota.

Most of the river's turtles breed in May and June, after which the females crawl to sandy uplands. There, they dig a hole in which to lay their eggs. Clutch sizes range from seven to nine eggs for the rare wood turtle, up to 20 to 30 eggs for the snapping turtle.

Once the eggs are laid and buried, the females return to water. The subterranean eggs incubate until hatching, and the young dig their way out. They enjoy no parental care, and with an innate sense for the nearest water, migrate back to the river.

In most cases, the eggs hatch in August. But in some instances, the young may winter inside the nests and emerge the following spring.

Oddly, sex determination of painted turtles is dependent upon temperature of the incubating eggs, not genetics. At 84 degrees and up, mostly females are born. Below 84 degrees, mostly males develop. A study of painted turtles on the Mississippi found that during the warmest summers, nearly 100 percent of hatchlings were female.

Turtle eggs and young are prized nutrition for many other animals, such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, opossums and crows.

On the evolutionary scale, turtles first emerged 208 million to 245 million years ago during the Triassic period of the Mesozoic era. They shared the stage with the first mammals, dinosaurs and frogs, but appeared before flowering plants.

Today, there are about 250 species of turtles on the planet. Eight are sea turtles, 180 are freshwater turtles and 62 are completely terrestrial. In the United States and Canada, there are about 40 species.

Turtles are taken for food in Minnesota and Wisconsin. After decades of unregulated commercial hunting and trapping, Wisconsin enacted tougher regulations four years ago. Wisconsin's turtle season once ran from June 16 through April 30 without a bag or size limit. And on the Mississippi River, the season was year-round.

Today, Wisconsin's season runs from July 15 through November 30, and persons may collect or possess up to five of each species, with the following exceptions:

--The possession limit for snapping turtles and softshell turtles is three, but on the Mississippi River, the possession limit is 10 for snapping turtles and five for softshell turtles.

--Snapping turtle size limits are a 12-inch minimum and a 16-inch maximum carapace (top shell) length. There are no size limits for other turtles.

--Turtles may be taken by hand, dip net, hook and line, set line, set or bank poles, hooking, or hoop net trap. Turtles may not be taken by hook and line from trout streams during the closed trout season.

Minnesota has less stringent regulations on the taking of turtles. Anyone with a fishing license may take, possess and transport turtles for personal use. Turtles may be taken using a fishing pole, bow and arrow, spear, turtle hook or hand.

The snapping turtle possession limit is 3. Minimum size limit is 10 inches measured side to side across the shell at midpoint. Snapping turtles may not be taken during May and June. Blanding's and wood turtles may not be taken or possessed except with a special permit.

Take a second look at those turtles out there. When the females start migrating to nesting sites later this month and in June, try to give them some room on the highway. And if you stop to help one off the road, put it on the side it was headed to.

And good turtling.


(Distributed by The Associated Press)

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