Regulations protect Indiana’s turtles

This time around we’re going to talk turtles of Indiana.

A couple of terms you might run across when reading about turtles are carapace, the upper bony shell of a turtle, and plastron, the lower shell.

You might be asking, “What is the difference between a turtle and a tortoise?” That’s a good question. The short answer is tortoises don’t need to live near a water source.

There are more than 300 species of turtles and tortoises hanging around. Here in Indiana most list 15 species; a couple list a few more. To try to be accurate, we’re going go with the larger list. This list includes: Common Snapping, Alligator Snapping, Eastern Mud, Common Musk, Eastern Mud, Spotted, Eastern Box, Ornate Box, Common Map, False Map (aka Midland Sawback Turtle), Ouachita Map, Hieroglyphic River Cooter, Red-eared Slider, Eastern Painted, Midland Painted, Western Painted, Blanding’s, Midland Smooth Softshell and Eastern Spiny Softshell.

The extra three are Ouachita Map, Eastern Painted and Western Painted. These were listed by, a turtle rescue located in New Palestine, as being Indiana turtles.

Out of these, five are listed as endangered species in Indiana: Spotted, Blanding’s, Hieroglyphic River Cooter, Ornate Box and Alligator Snapping. Depending on whom you want to believe, the last “official” sighting of an Alligator Snapping was either 1991 or 2012. Not all of these turtles are found naturally in our area, unless somebody brought them in. Some live in very specific areas of the state such as the southwest or northwest.

For those who may not be aware, the Common Snapping Turtle, Smooth Softshell and Spiny Softshell are considered game animals and are regulated by hunting and fishing laws in Indiana. Please refer to the Indiana Hunting and Trapping Guide. I can attest the snappers are good eating, fixed right.

Other legal considerations with regard to turtles in Indiana:

The collection of endangered species and box turtles or their eggs is also a no-no.

Collecting on Department of Natural Resources properties is not allowed.

Neither is releasing any turtle collected in Indiana that you have in your possession for more than 30 days. It can be released if held for less than 30 days if it has not been housed with other animals, and it must be released at the original site of capture.

You cannot sell any turtle with a carapace less than 4 inches.

Here are some other turtle facts for you to ponder:

The sex of a hatchling is determined by the incubation temperature (low for male and high for females).

Many turtles are excellent climbers.

The turtle is one of the oldest reptile groups.

They have good eyesight and an excellent sense of smell but no ears.

While turtles are mostly herbivores (plant eaters), young turtles are carnivorous to get the protein needed to grow.

Not all turtles can pull their head inside their shell.

Just to show how small our turtles are compared to the largest in the world: The Galapagos Giant Tortoise is the largest living species of tortoise, reaching 880 pounds and almost 6 feet long. The Leatherback Sea Turtle has been known to reach almost 10 feet head to tail (the carapace was about 7 feet) and weighed about 2,019 pounds. Compare that to the Box Turtle that gets to about 7 inches.

In this area the most common turtles include: Common Snapping, Common Musk, Eastern Box, Common Map, Midland Painted, Red-eared Slider and Eastern Spiny Softshell.

Again, these are the most common in this area; there aren’t any signs that tell Spotted Turtles they can’t come here, and who knows what has been brought here and released. We’ll cover those turtles next time.