Rare Plymouth County turtle spared squashing on busy road

Bobbi Sistrunk

Would you help an old cooter cross the road? That’s exactly what Carver resident John Duffy did last month.

While traveling Route 58 July 9, Duffy noticed a large object in the roadway. Upon further examination, he realized it was a very large turtle. It had narrowly escaped being squashed by a truck. Duffy pulled over, stopped traffic and helped the turtle reach the safety zone it was so purposefully heading for.

Duffy, an avid hunter, was almost positive the turtle he guided to safety was a rare northern red-bellied cooter. Duffy was correct. Pseudemys rubriventris is known to inhabit just one county in Massachusetts: Plymouth. The turtle received Endangered Species Act protection in 1980 and is still considered endangered today. Due to its very small and geographically specific population, long-term survival is always threatened.

Duffy estimated the turtle to be between 14-16 inches long from head to tail. He said he suspected it was a female because of its size.

“She may have been just out for a stroll, but I don’t know that much about them. They generally lay their eggs in June, but who knows?” he said.

He said the turtle was crossing from one business parking lot to another. It was near a fence line, which he guessed might have funneled it toward the roadway.

Fortunately, he always carries a camera with him and was able to photograph the turtle after moving it to safety. He said although he was 90 percent sure it was a red-bellied cooter, he wanted to get a confirmation on his suspicion.

He sent the photo to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife in Bourne. They answered back a few weeks later.

Turtle conservation biologist Lori Erb contacted Duffy to confirm his find.

“I took a look at the photos and confirmed that you found a red-bellied cooter,” Erb wrote in an e-mail to Duffy. “That is a state- and federally-listed species and we would love to get more information about where you saw the turtle, when, etc.”

Erb asked him to fill out a rare animal species observation form and return it to her office. Duffy was happy to oblige.After carefully reading the information he provided, Erb again contacted Duffy.

“I received your observation information – Thanks!” she wrote. “This was an old turtle.  It was at least 13 years old, but more likely over 20.”