Growing up (and still today) 4 teenage turtles were some of my favorite superheroes and now I'm looking to return the favor to their real-life counterparts. As the weather warms up in Wisconsin, it's time for our shelled friends to embark on their annual nesting journey.

Credit: Canva These baby painted turtles are unlikely to become a band a vigilante crime-fighters, but they are pretty cute.
Credit: Canva
These baby Painted Turtles are unlikely to become a band of vigilante crime fighters, but they are pretty cute.

From late May through June, turtles emerge from rivers, lakes, and wetlands searching for the perfect spot to lay their eggs. With 11 turtle species in the state, this is a crucial period for these reptiles, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is calling on the public to lend a helping hand. Let's shell-a-brate nesting season, and be a "superhero" to protect these gentle creatures and ensure their survival in Wisconsin.

  • Smooth Softshell (Apalone mutica)
  • Spiny Softshell (Apalone spinifera)
  • Eastern Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus)
  • Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)
  • Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii)
  • False Map Turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica)
  • Northern Map Turtle (Graptemys geographical)
  • Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata)
  • Ouachita Map Turtle (Graptemys ouachitensis)
  • Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta)
  • Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta)
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Non-native Species (Introduced species reported throughout Wisconsin)

  • Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans)
  • Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina)

Turtles search for sunny, sandy, or well-drained soils such as sandbanks, gardens, gravel driveways, and road shoulders. Some species nest close to water, while others may travel over 1,000 feet before laying. Depending on the species and weather conditions, hatchlings usually emerge after 2 to 4 months, though some may overwinter in the nest and emerge in spring.

Credit: Canva Adult Painted Turtles
Credit: Canva
Adult Painted Turtles

Slow and Steady: Protecting Turtle Nests

When it comes to turtle conservation, every nest counts. Turtles lay their eggs in shallow, buried nests often found along roads and in residential yards. Protecting these nests from predators like raccoons, skunks, and coyotes is essential. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how you can build a turtle nest cage to keep those eggs safe.

Credit: Canva An example of a turtle nest cage used on beaches where sea turtles lay eggs.
Credit: Canva
An example of a turtle nest cage used on beaches where sea turtles lay eggs.

Materials Needed:

  • Roll of mesh wire fencing (1 in. x 2 in. or 3 in. mesh)
  • Package of wire cage clips
  • Wire cutter or needle nose pliers
  • 4 stakes (e.g., forestry or tent stakes)
  • Galvanized wire, twine, or sturdy line
  • Hammer
  • Hand-held garden spade
Credit: Canva A Painted Turtle hatching from it's egg.
Credit: Canva
A Painted Turtle hatching from it's egg.


  1. Cut Pieces: Cut one top piece (12 in. x 12 in.) and four side pieces (7 in. x 12 in.) from the wire mesh fencing using wire cutters.
  2. Assemble Cage: Attach each side piece to the top piece using three evenly spaced wire clips per side.
  3. Place and Stake Cage: Outline the cage location and dig down about 4 inches. Place the cage over the nest, bury the lower half in soil, pack soil around the sides, and stake it down to prevent predators from removing it.

Turtley Awesome Driving Tips

Credit: Canva
Credit: Canva

Turtle road mortality is a leading cause of decline for these species. Drivers can make a significant difference by being mindful when traveling near wet areas, lakes, and rivers. Here are some tips to avoid a shell-shocking incident.

Credit: Canva An Ornate Box Turtle attempting to cross a highway.
Credit: Canva
An Ornate Box Turtle attempting to cross a highway.
  • Slow Down: Reduce your speed, especially on roads near wetlands.
  • Stay Alert: Keep an eye out for turtles crossing the road.
  • Reduce Distractions: Focus on the road and avoid activities that take your attention away from driving.

Why are Turtle Populations Dwindling?

Credit: Canva A bird infiltrates a turtle nest for an egg-y breakfast.
Credit: Canva
A bird infiltrates a turtle's nest for an egg-y breakfast.

The global decline in turtle populations is driven by several interrelated factors. Habitat loss and fragmentation due to urban development and agriculture disrupt their living and breeding areas. Overexploitation for the exotic pet and food trades, particularly targeting adult turtles, hampers repopulation. Pollution in waterways, including chemicals and plastics, directly harms turtles and affects their reproductive health.

Credit: Canva
Credit: Canva

Additionally, diseases transmitted from humans, domestic animals, and invasive species contribute to high mortality rates. Invasive species exacerbate the problem by outcompeting turtles for resources, preying on eggs, and disrupting essential biotic relationships. Effective conservation efforts must address these issues comprehensively to protect and restore turtle populations.

Credit: Canva A Smooth Softshell Turtle.
Credit: Canva
A Smooth Softshell turtle laying eggs.

One of the best ways to protect Wisconsin’s native turtles (and turtles in general) is to leave them in their natural habitat. Wild turtles should not be captured or kept as pets. Also, releasing pet turtles into the wild can introduce diseases and disrupt local ecosystems. Remember, a wild turtle is a happy turtle, let's leave them that way.

The Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program (WTCP)

The WTCP is a citizen-based monitoring program by the DNR aimed at better cataloging species' statewide distributions and identifying high turtle mortality locations. Public participation in reporting and nest protection is crucial for these efforts. For more information about turtles in Wisconsin, visit the Turtle Conservation Program webpage. There, you can find resources on turtle species, conservation efforts, and more ways to get involved.

Credit: Canva The Ornate Box turtle.
Credit: Canva
The Ornate Box turtle.

Your observations can help the DNR manage and conserve turtle populations more effectively. Report turtle sightings, road crossings, and nest sites using the DNR’s Reporting Form. Additionally, if you witness any suspicious activity involving turtles, such as illegal collection, report it immediately to the DNR’s Violation Hotline at 800-847-9367.

Credit: Canva A juvenile Snapping turle.
Credit: Canva
A juvenile Snapping turtle.

Conservation work for endangered and threatened species relies heavily on donations. Your contribution to the Endangered Resources Fund helps protect and restore habitats, control invasive species, and conduct necessary maintenance on State Natural Areas. Every dollar makes a big difference, and your gift is matched by the state, doubling your impact.

Credit: Canva An Ouachita Map Turtle.
Credit: Canva
An Ouachita Map Turtle.

You can help ensure that Wisconsin’s turtle populations continue to thrive. Every action counts, from building nest cages to driving cautiously and reporting sightings. So, let’s shell-a-brate this nesting season by giving our turtles the best chance at a bright future. Remember, we’re all in this together – slow and steady wins the race!

LOOK: Here are the pets banned in each state

Because the regulation of exotic animals is left to states, some organizations, including The Humane Society of the United States, advocate for federal, standardized legislation that would ban owning large cats, bears, primates, and large poisonous snakes as pets.

Read on to see which pets are banned in your home state, as well as across the nation.

Gallery Credit: Elena Kadvany

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