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Frequently asked questions

Q: I saw a turtle trying to cross a busy road. I'm afraid it will get hit by a car? What's the right thing to do?

A: Check out our page on Helping Turtles Cross Roads for complete info on how to help them.

Q: What should I do if I find a turtle?
A: It can be complicated! What kind is it? It is a native wild turtle? Is it sick or injured (see below)? Where was it found? What time of year? How big is it?...the questions can go on and on. Test yourself on the following scenarios.

Q: What can I do if I find a wild turtle that is injured?

A: Getting immediate help for a wild turtle can save its life after an injury. Look for full details on our page about Injured Wild Turtles.

Q: Help! A turtle just laid some eggs in our mulch! What can I do to protect the eggs?

A: Check out the info in this helpful link:  Protecting Turtle Nests.

Q: I would like a pet turtle. Can I just take one from the woods or nearby pond and bring it home?

A: When you see an adult turtle in the wild, it has already spent many years beating the odds of surviving predators, disease and habitat loss. It's vitally important to leave wild turtles in their natural habitat to help species continue to breed and survive. It's often illegal to remove a native turtle from the wild, and the offense carries large fines in some states. If you'd like a pet turtle, the best solution is to adopt a turtle that has been surrendered to MATTS or another reputable rescue service by its former owners or has been rehabilitated from an accident (often with no trace of the injury, but sometimes needing special care). See the Adoption page for full details. 

Q: I was wondering if my turtle is a girl or a boy. How can I tell?

A: Hatchling and juvenile turtles are usually indistinguishable, but here are links for figuring out the gender of more mature turtles from two common species, the box turtle and red-eared slider. The RES tips apply to some other common pond turtles, such as the Eastern Painted turtle.

Q: Do turtles shed their shells?

A: NO! Turtles keep their original shells their whole lives. Turtles can shed pieces of skin, and some aquatic turtles also shed thin layers of "scute." You can read a full explanation and see an illustration about turtle shedding here.

Q: My pet turtle turned out to be a lot more work than I expected. I had no idea they lived so long! Can I release it in the wild?

A:  Releasing a pet turtle or tortoise into nature is never the right solution. In addition to potentially spreading disease to native wildlife, it may also be illegal and your animal may contribute to the invasive species problem since many pet turtles are not native to the states of their owners. MATTS and this website can provide advice on making habitat changes that can make it easier to care for your turtle. Our Adoptions program also places turtles that have been surrendered by their former owners. See Surrender a Turtle for more info.

Q: I'd like to get a turtle, but I don't have a lot of room. Is it true that a turtle's growth is limited by the size of its enclosure?

A: This is a very common misconception. This erroneous information  accounts for many turtles being kept in enclosures far to small for a happy and healthy life. Turtle size is determined by its species and gender. Before you select a turtle, do adequate research on its species, life expectancy, and expected adult size. A turtle or tortoise is a long-term commitment and you should make a fully-informed decision. This illustration about Red-Eared Sliders is a great example of how quickly your tiny turtle can become an extremely large adult.

Q: I found a baby snapping turtle in my yard. There's a creek nearby, but the turtle wasn't near the water. What should I do?

A: It's likely the mother came from the nearby water and the hatchling is trying to make it to a water source. Female snappers can lay their nests a great distance from the lake/pond/river from which they emerge. The babies have to make it back to the water. If there is a lot of vegetation like cattails, etc. at the side of the pond, put him in the shallow water in the vegetation; do not put in the deep water. Don't release on open banks; put in shallow water with as much vegetation and mud/muck around as possible in which he/she can hide. This helps protect them from predators and allows them access to the deeper water for hibernation. Please resist the attempt to take the "cute little snapping turtle" home with you in an misplaced desire to "help" the turtle. In another year, it will be a large, unsuitable pet and you'll be regretting your decision.

Q: Fall is here and the nights are getting cold. I just found a tiny hatchling box turtle outdoors. Should bring it in the house or garage for the winter, to protect it from the cold? Is it too young to hibernate?

A: With eggs laid in late spring or early summer, turtles in the wild hatch in the Fall (as late as November), often after a good rain loosens the ground. Conditions are always perilous for a young turtle, but you still should not interrupt nature's cycle by removing the turtle from the wild if it appears healthy. The hatchling is in the process of getting somewhere safe to hide and settle in for the winter.  If you find a box turtle hatchling in an odd place, you should leave it outdoors, but can move it to safer location. Here are some guidelines:

- Don't put it near a pond, a location favored by predators and people. Very small box turtles don't hang out in the water; just very moist terra firma

 - Place it in a deciduous forest with lots of low growth (i.e., not overrun with deer that have trampled / eaten all the natural understory)

- The forest release site should be as far as possible from any roads or walking trails

- Put the turtle under a really heavy growth of brier or similar thorny stuff if possible - the denser the better, as predators find brier hard to negotiate and beneficial leaf litter tends to accumulate there

- Place the turtle under the leaf litter - it will dig down into the soil as need be

Q: My son wants to paint a turtle. We plan to use a non-toxic paint. I want to make sure we won't harm the turtle. Is this okay?

A: It's never okay to paint a turtle - it can be deadly. Paint makes it harder for a turtle to thermo-regulate in the wild, either not getting warm enough in the sun, or warming too fast. Without proper temperature a turtle can't digest food or keep a healthy immune system. Turtles that have been painted are more visible to predators, so more likely to get eaten, as natural camouflage is lost. Paint on the growth lines between the scutes can cause shell deformities. That's living bone under the shell's keratin, and any paint can be toxic in large quantities.

Q: We're getting ready to run our annual carnival at our church and were thinking of using baby turtles as prizes. Is this okay?

 A: Definitely not! In fact in many states like Maryland, it's illegal too!.   Maryland Carnival Regulations

.‚ÄčDedicated to the conservation and care of turtles and tortoises.

Mid-Atlantic Turtle & Tortoise Society