Turtles, nine species of which live in Minnesota, are really neat. Some evidence for turtles’ greatness: they are like “pond coyotes” in that they eat just about anything; all freshwater turtles in Minnesota spend all of the winter underwater (they can survive because they breathe through their butts…“cloacae” if you want to be scientific). In addition to their individual charms, turtles are really important for environmental conservation and wellbeing for a variety of reasons. They are an indicator of good ecosystem health, because when nature is happy, turtles are happy, and when turtles aren’t doing well, neither is their biome.
Due to their aforementioned eating habits, turtles are extremely helpful in keeping ponds clean. They also assist in dispersal of plant seeds and bring nutrients from ponds onto the land.
Lastly, turtles play a major role in human conservation efforts because they are so darn cute and that helps people care about the environment.
Unfortunately, turtles are really having a rough go right now. Sixty percent of all turtle species are either in danger of extinction or already extinct. This sorry state of affairs is due to four main causes.
Habitat loss and degradation limit turtles’ available living space, and poaching has resulted in a drastic decrease of wild turtles. Road mortality is also a huge issue for turtles because adults make up a relatively small number of all turtles (due in part to late maturity), so every mature turtle is a vitally important piece of the breeding population.
Finally, nest predation (mostly by raccoons) results in the demise of 85 to 90% of all turtle nests.
This last cause of turtle-death, at least, might seem like it isn’t humans’ fault, but it has been our negative impact on larger predators that has allowed raccoons to proliferate and wreak devastation on turtle nests.
Luckily, there are a few ways that anyone can help turtles out. By assisting turtles across roads, leaving turtle nets undisturbed, keeping pets leashed, and refraining from littering (litter provides food that keeps racoon populations high), we can all make turtles’ lives a little easier.