Madison Area Herpetological Society

Please Don’t Take Me Home!


Please Don’t Take Me Home!

You may have come across that tiny, nickel to quarter sized hatchling or baby turtle while out on the trail or while on the road. Does it need rescuing? Maybe this will make for a neat pet for the kids or family. Hatchling turtles, and other native reptiles and amphibians can be undeniably cute and tempting to take home, but there are several reasons not to. Here are several considerations to keep in mind for when you find a hatchling turtle or other reptile and are considering keeping or taking it home.

-All of Wisconsin’s native species of reptiles and amphibians are subject to the State of Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) collection and possession laws, and some species may even be threatened, endangered, or otherwise protected. This means that taking or removing them from where they were found is illegal, and therefore against the law! Some of these species may include the North American Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta), Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii), and Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata).

-Even if a turtle species is common, or if collecting and keeping one is legal, it often isn’t a good idea for other reasons. Many adult turtles that are seen crossing roads or over land are gravid (pregnant) females searching for sandy nesting sites to lay their eggs. By removing one of these individuals, you could be making a bigger impact on local turtle populations than expected and may face additional difficulties in caring for the eggs/hatchlings if they are laid in captivity.

-If a turtle is encountered on or near a roadway, you can safely move the turtle to the other side in the direction it was originally heading or facing. Large, and/or defensive species such as snapping turtles and softshells should be handled and moved carefully by gripping the rear margins of the carapace and plastron (upper and lower shells) behind the hind legs. Only do so when traffic and other conditions safely allow one to do so. Turtles encountered on roads or out in the open usually do not need any further rescuing unless they are injured or have other noticeable health problems.

-Female turtles may lay their eggs or nest up to a mile to mile and a half from any nearby water sources. A hatchling or baby turtle that is encountered on land away from water usually does not need rescuing, and should either be simply be left alone to make its journey back to a water source, or be placed in a nearby water source if one can be seen nearby.

-Many reptiles and amphibians can make great pets, but always become educated and do your research beforehand prior to obtaining one. This includes knowing and becoming familiar with the species adult size, diets, lighting, temperature, and humidity requirements, space and enclosure requirements and overall husbandry. Do not purchase or acquire any reptile or amphibian on impulse, and consider researching and selecting a healthy captive bred and born pet from a quality, reputable source instead such as local breeders, pet and reptile specialty stores, rescues, or other sources that may exist in your area.

-Although they can make for good pets with a lot of work, most aquatic turtles especially are messy and difficult pets to properly care for. They can become large (i.e. the size of a dinner plate or even larger), live a long time of at least 30 to 40 years or more, require proper diets and supplements, as well as require proper lighting, heating, and temperatures and semi aquatic setups to prevent becoming ill. Are you prepared for and committed to caring for an animal for 30-40+ years with all of the above requirements? What will happen if you no longer want or are able to care for this turtle?

-If you find a wild or native turtle that is suspected to be injured, sick, or otherwise in need of assistance or human intervention, contact your area’s wildlife rescue and rehabilitation organization provided in the WDNR link below. Oftentimes, these organizations are able to better provide professional veterinary and other services dealing with native turtles and other wildlife.

-To learn more about Wisconsin’s native reptiles and amphibians, visit the WDNR and Madison Area Herpetological Society (MAHS) native species sections of these websites: