The painted turtles of spring
April 21, 2011 —
After what seemed to be an endless winter, signs of spring are appearing in the woods and on the shores of rivers and lakes, and the singers such as the wood thrush and the spring peeper hail spring’s arrival. On the 9th of April, during a kayak trip on Walker Lake in Shohola, PA, I spotted some more signs of milder weather: many painted turtles basking on the shore.
Painted turtles are visible on most lakes and ponds in the region during the warmer weather, but it is spring, right after they emerge, when they are most visible. With the warm sun and mild air temperatures and water that is still cold, turtles can be spotted climbing onto rocks and logs in droves; ectothermy, or regulating their body temperature, is their mission.
During early spring, painted turtles spend extensive time basking during mild weather, submerging occasionally to forage. This species is very popular among people collecting turtles for pets. This article from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission addresses this practice—to summarize, while not actually illegal, it is not recommended—and contains detailed information concerning painted turtles: www.fish.state.pa.us/education/catalog/pictathousand.pdf.