At their own particular pace, Maine’s turtles are nearing the end of their annual breeding season.

Most have already laid eggs in areas traditional to the long-lived reptilians. Sometimes they’re seen by motorists as they make their way to or from those places, often spots where the sand is loose and soft enough for their clawed feet to scoop out a nest-like depression.

Phillip deMaynadier, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Endangered Species Group, said Maine’s turtles can often use a helping hand.

People walking, biking or driving along who spot turtles crossing roads could lift them by the shell and carry them to safety in the direction they’re headed.

“They might not want to lift a large snapping turtle,” he noted, however. In that case, deMaynadier suggested simply standing behind the creature as it moves, perhaps giving it a gentle nudge if needed.

Of course such helpers need to watch and listen for traffic, the biologist noted, and get out of the way if necessary.

Most common among Maine’s turtles are the snappers, which can grow quite large and live a century or longer, and the smaller, more colorful painted turtle.

DeMaynadier notes Maine is also home to five others: the endangered Blanding’s, Eastern box and spotted turtles, and wood and musk turtles, both of which aren’t endangered but are listed by the state as being of special concern.

Maine’s southernmost counties — York, Cumberland, Oxford and Androscoggin — are at the northernmost fringe of the range of Blanding’s and spotted turtles, while evidence suggest the Eastern box turtle may not be native but likely here as a result of people releasing animals that were once kept as pets.

Populations of the endangered turtles and those listed as being of special concern are largely threatened by habitat destruction, deMaynadier said. The places where they traditionally nested are being turned into housing and business developments, and the paths turtles followed to nest sites are being bisected by roadways.

He said that besides lifting turtles to help them avoid traffic hazards, another way for people to help them is to support and contribute to local conservation groups and organizations such as the Nature Conservancy.

Maine also supports habitat conservation through its Endangered Species Group, which is funded with money raised by sales of the loon license plate.

DeMaynadier said that for many people, their first experience with a turtle comes when they’re quite young and they or a friend or family member catches a turtle.

“I don’t mind that,” deMaynadier said, but suggests that once the excitement and novelty of the find wears off, the turtle be liberated back into the wild.

People who want to know more about Maine turtles can find information at the IF&W Web site — www.state.me.us/ifw — and clicking on “wildlife” then “endangered species.” People can also visit the department’s online store and purchase a poster showing Maine’s turtles and providing information on each. Bookstores offer or get by special order a book of Maine’s amphibians and reptiles, which features 38 species and subspecies of turtles, snakes and their other relatives.

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