Be on the lookout this month
This week, students in all three counties of Southern Maryland will have their last day of school.
My kids won’t be the only children gleefully singing “No more pencils, no more books” with big smiles on their faces. Summer vacation will soon be underway, so keep a vigilant eye on the roads while driving. There will be lot more youngsters running around the neighborhood streets and frequenting the playgrounds and parks the next few months.
Just last week I saw a young boy riding his bike down the side of the road with his fishing rod bungee-corded to the back. I knew exactly where he was going and wished I was heading to the same place instead of the grocery store.
Most of us would probably enjoy going back in time and reliving the lazy days of summer as a child again. But since that’s not possible, let’s do what we can to encourage our own children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews and the kids down the
street to venture outside this summer and experience all the natural world has to offer.
Summer doesn’t last that long and before you know it, September will be ushering our kids back to a structured schedule that doesn’t always leave time for play. Don’t take the unstructured downtime of summer for granted. While it’s here, make some plans to do something fun outdoors with the important people in your life and enjoy these sweet days.
While you’re keeping an eye out for youngsters during your daily commute, don’t be surprised if you notice a lot more wildlife out and about. This time of year it’s a common sight to see a small shelled creature pokily crossing the road. Many box turtles will be on the move during the first few weeks of June, looking for a place to nest or a new territory to call home.
If you’re so inclined to stop your car and help a turtle along, make sure to pull all the way over and put your hazard lights on. Just move the little guy to the side of the road and make sure to point him in the direction he was going.
Since box turtles can transmit the salmonella bacteria, it’s a smart idea to put a barrier between your hand and the turtle’s shell. Empty plastic shopping bags or napkins from the drive-thru will make do in a pinch, but it’s wise to keep a pair of old leather work gloves in the trunk for any sort of emergency that involves wildlife. A canister of sanitizing wipes come in handy, too. Wipe your hands, door handle and steering wheel after touching a turtle or any wild animal. As soon as you can, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
It might be tempting to take a turtle home and release it in your backyard, but those good intentions can have a terrible outcome for the turtle. Box turtles usually live within a few hundred yards of the nest they hatched from and have a strong homing instinct that drives them to return to their territory, putting them in harm’s way as they attempt to return home
especially if it’s a long distance or requires crossing the road again.
A box turtle has a dark brownish or black shell with distinctive yellow mottled streaks. You might notice that some turtles have yellow eyes while others have red. That’s an easy way to tell the girls from the boys. Male box turtles have red eyes.
There are several different species of turtle that reside in our area. If you encounter a turtle with a dark colored shell and long tail, don’t attempt to
pick it up and keep your distance. Snapping turtles can be very aggressive. They have flexible necks and can turn and bite a person even when being held by the sides of their shell.
Once when I was younger, my mom stopped the car for a whole family of snapping turtles sunbathing in the street, enjoying the double whammy of heat emanating off the pavement and beating down on their shells simultaneously.
My mom sent me out to shoo them off the road. Some people say snapping turtles can’t jump, but I have firsthand knowledge that they
indeed can, and they hiss and lunge, too. I got right back in the car and told my mom she would have to do it herself. She prudently decided to just drive around them.
While box turtles aren’t endangered, they could use all the help they can get these days. Southern Maryland has grown quickly the last few decades and the continuous pace of development is shrinking their habitat every day.
As you drive around our lovely part of Maryland, keep an eye out for box turtles. Next time you see one playing chicken in the middle of the road, pull over and save a tiny
part of our local ecosystem. It won’t take but a minute of your time but it will make a big difference to a small creature that can live 100 years or more in the wild. Just be sure to pull well off the road and to be as safe as possible.
Horseshoe crabs need our help
There’s another animal in our midst that could use a little assistance from humans over the next month, too.
The horseshoe crab, which has been in existence since before the time of the dinosaurs, is making its annual trek
from the Atlantic Ocean to our beaches to spawn right now. With the full moon on June 9 and the new moon on June 23, this is going to be a busy couple of weeks for horseshoe crabs.
The Department of Natural Resources is asking Mar ylanders to lend a helping hand to any horseshoe crabs on the beach that have been flipped onto their backs by the surf. While they sport a long pointy tail to help them right themselves, with their tiny feet and cumbersome shell, it’s often an impossible task.
A significant percentage of spawning horseshoe crabs, up to 10 percent, get stranded ever y year and die. Horseshoe crabs aren’t endangered, but their numbers are decreasing worldwide, which is bad news for the loggerhead turtles that prey on them or the multitude of shorebirds that depend on their eggs for sustenance during long migrations.
Horseshoe crabs look a little scary, but they are gentle creatures that won’t hurt or bite people. DNR recommends picking up a stranded horseshoe crab by either side of its shell (never by its tail) and turning it over so it can return to the water.