A few weeks ago I went to one of the local pet stores for some dog treats, and saw three turtles in a large bin outside. Two of the turtles were non-natives, but one was a Western Painted, native to all parts of the west as far north as Canada. Western Painteds hibernate in winter by burying into the mud. I couldn’t resist, paid the $30 and brought what I think is a female turtle home.
The pet store owner told me this turtle is about 10 months old and from Denver. I had just finished a water project, and it seemed auspicious to put my new turtle in our restored marshy riparian area. It’s a good habitat with continuous water, sun, as well as willows.
I looked for the turtle every day, but soon, after about a week, the turtle had disappeared. I worried. Had a predator gotten it? I know little about Western Painted Turtles so I started reading up. Yes, Hawks predate on them, but that seemed unlikely given the plethora of ground squirrels and other rodents around. Besides, my turtle was well camouflaged. There are no dogs around and very few raccoons. I wondered what was going on. But five days later I had my answer.
Nearby my home is a forest that harbors seven springs. It is a swampy place that was logged about seven years ago because most of the old spruce were dead from beetle kill. Between my home where the turtle resided and this forest is a large meadow. My neighbor who lives about 1/4 mile away in this forest called to say the turtle was in her yard in the stream by her home. I figured out that the turtle had followed the watercourse till it ended, then took a hard right across the meadow and through the woods.
I retrieved the turtle and brought him back to my marsh, amazed how far she had traveled in so short a time. But only five days later the kids at the horse camp across the street knocked on my door carrying the turtle to say she had once again wandered far away–this time in the opposite direction, crossing the road and exploring their large horse pasture.
This wanderer needed a decent home and some confinement. I wondered if turtles, like cats, need to spend their first few weeks confined to adjust to a new home. I read that they sometimes try to return to where they were born. Could this turtle be going east towards Denver?
So today I took the turtle into the swamp former forest and found it a nice stream that had lots of mud and vegetation as well as sun (Western turtles spend a lot of time sunning themselves). I created a ‘fence’ of chicken wire and I plan to purchase two more turtles as company.
These turtles are native. And these turtles will overwinter. I have a lot to learn about them. The next two I get will be a male and a female but they won’t be sexually mature for many years. One thing I have learned though–my turtle is not only an explorer, but a survivor. She has been doing fine on her own for the last month despite all her wanderings.