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May 23: Let’s Shellebrate Turtles!

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The United States is home to more turtle species than any other country in the world, with almost one hundred species and subspecies. North Dakota has four native species. All four have healthy populations and are classified as “least concern” on the scale of conservation status.

The largest North Dakota turtle is the snapping turtle. They average a length of twelve to fifteen inches. They are called snapping turtles for a reason: their powerful jaws can snap a person’s finger.

The false map turtle is smaller. The males are usually three to five inches long while females reach eight to ten inches. They eat both meat and plants. They like stagnant or very slow-moving water.

The midland smooth softshell turtle has a very plain, olive drab shell. It gets to be eight to thirteen inches long. These turtles eat plants, but favor meat. They like insects, snails, and small fish. Although they can live in most bodies of water, they prefer water with a muddy or sandy bottom.

The fourth North Dakota turtle is the western painted turtle. The shell ranges from dark olive to black with markings of red, orange, and yellow. They eat both plants and meat. They tend to live in slow-moving rivers, ponds, and lakes.

World Turtle Day is held on this date every year. American Tortoise Rescue established World Turtle Day as “a yearly observance to help people celebrate and protect turtles and tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world.” The World Turtle Day website offers some tips for helping turtles.

If you see a turtle crossing a road, pull over if possible, pick it up, and carry it across. It only takes a minute, and can save a turtle from being hit by a car. Always move the turtle in the direction it was going. If you return it to where it came from, it will just turn around and head back.

If there is turtle habitat on your property, consult with conservationists on how you can best preserve their home. And do not introduce non-native turtles to the local habitat. They will upset the ecosystem.

Happy Turtle Day! It’s time to "shellebrate" our turtle friends!

Dakota Datebook by Dr. Carole Butcher


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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