Maine’s Turtles…and How You Can Help Them

On May 25, 2021, Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s lead biologist on reptiles, Derek Yorks, shared his knowledge of these charismatic but somewhat elusive creatures. Turtles have been around for 200 million years and haven’t changed much in that time. Four of Maine’s seven native species are endangered, threatened, or of special concern. Here’s a great resource for identifying Maine turtles.

You can access Derek’s presentation here. (Tip: For the best video quality, click the Settings icon below the You Tube screen and select HD 1080p.)

  • The beautiful Painted Turtles are often seen basking on logs. Habitat generalists, they can be found throughout  most of Maine except for northern-most parts.
  • Snapping Turtles can grow very large and are omnivorous – they eat everything! As scavengers, they are important ecologically, removing detritus from our waters. They don’t leave the water very often.
  • The Musk Turtle is like a mini-snapping turtle, very defensive despite its small size (around 4″).
  • The  Spotted Turtle has a distinctive black shell with small yellow spots and tends to hang out in acidic wetlands. Its tendency to move around on land makes it more vulnerable to harm. Its populations are threatened in Maine.
  • The Blandings Turtle has a high domed shell that resembles a WWII helmet and yellow chin and neck. Found mostly in York County, it moves around a lot in search of food, mates, and seasonal habitat (up to 5 miles/yr). They can get bigger, but not as big as snappers. The Blandings Turtle is endangered in Maine.
  • The Wood Turtle occupies slow streams with sandy/gravelly bottoms but also occupies upland habitat. They are ‘all terrain’ turtles (no webbed feet), scaly limbs, and orange collars. Its population is listed as ‘Of Special Concern’ in Maine.
  • The Eastern Box Turtle is Maine’s only completely terrestrial turtle. It is found in more southerly locations (mid-Atlantic). Its population is endangered.
  • The Red-Eared Slider is not native to Maine, but some have likely been released by those who owned them as pets.

Derek explained that the biggest threats to turtle in Maine are loss of habitat and development. Many turtles are killed crossing roads. He cited the following things we can do to protect Maine’s turtle populations:

  • Slow down in high turtle crossing areas. Help turtles to the other side (wetland side, or the side they’re headed toward).
  • Make a Turtle Xing sign to alert other drivers or tell Derek about high traffic turtle crossing sites.
  • Leave them be! Don’t move turtles to a nearby waterbody unless it’s very close by (within walking distance) and it’s clear that’s where they’re headed.
  • Don’t release pet turtles.
  • Do citizen science! If you see a turtle, take a picture of it and submit the photo to the MARAP project in the iNaturalist app.
  • Participate in Maine Audubon’s turtle roadkill research.
  • Do the Chickadee Checkoff on your tax forms or get a loon license plate – these fund non-game research in Maine.
  • If you have property on a lake or stream, don’t mow all the down to the waterbody. Turtles need the vegetation that grows along the water’s edge.
  • Support local conservation groups that protect river and wetland habitat important to many turtles.

Many thanks to Derek for his knowledge and tips on how we can help Maine’s turtles!

Photo credit: Jan Smith