A recent advertisement in a local newspaper showing pet turtles has resulted in the issuance of a reminder from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources on why wild animals should not be kept as pets.
ANR spokesperson John Hall emphasized the importance of the matter, stating that "wild animals do not make good pets. Some are dangerous when they reach maturity, almost all do not adjust well to captivity, and many populations of reptiles and amphibians, including turtles, are being threatened by people illegally collecting them in the wild."
VT Fish & Wildlife believe that the advertisement, which promoted turtles as pets and showed a photo of a wood turtle, could mistakenly lead people into believing that it is acceptable to keep a wood turtle. However, it is illegal in Vermont to catch or possess a wood turtle as well as other native turtles.
Vermont is home to seven species of turtles: spotted turtle (small with distinct yellow spots; endangered and known from just a handful of locations), spiny softshell (large, threatened, confined to Lake Champlain and lower portions of rivers that flow into Lake Champlain), map turtle (up to 10” and confined mainly to Lake Champlain), musk turtle (rarely seen lake or stream bottom walker), snapping turtle (large, prehistoric looking giant that can have an 18” shell and be 36” nose to tail tip; can live up to 100 years and lay up to 100 eggs per year), painted turtle (perhaps our most plentiful turtle, relatively small, smooth dark shell, and likely a mix of midland and eastern subspecies in Vermont), and last but certainly not least, the wood turtle.
The wood turtle averages about 7.5 inches in shell length, and has reddish-orange skin on its neck and legs and a roughly textured shell. It is dependent on streams and small rivers, where it spends the winter on the bottom. In warmer months, it may travel 1,000 or more feet from the stream to forage on land.
Adult wood turtles may live 60 years, but the egg and hatchling survival rate is extremely low. Survival of older juveniles and adult breeders is key to maintaining this species. The wood turtle is rare throughout its natural habitat, which includes Vermont.
Taking a turtle home removes it from its breeding population and reduces that population’s chances of replacing turtles that die. It takes many years for a turtle to mature and the older breeders are needed to maintain populations. Only 2 percent of hatchling turtles may survive to become breeding adults, and wood turtles only lay an average of seven eggs each year.
In addition, wood turtles have not fared well in the face of human development of the landscape. Habitat loss and alteration, isolation of populations from each other, road mortality, impacts from mowers, increase in turtle predators such as raccoons and skunks, and collection of wild turtles as pets have contributed to a region-wide decline in the species.
And though it is illegal to collect and possess native wildlife as pets in Vermont, an illegal pet-trade still exists. Even animals reported to be “captive bred” are a problem, as breeding stock comes out of the wild.
The VT Fish & Wildlife department advises the public to enjoy Vermont’s wildlife in its natural habitat in the wild. To learn more about wood turtles and other wildlife in Vermont, visit the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department’s website “Critter Curriculum".
- Vt. Agency of Natural Resources press release