An ill-fated turtle wandered into a bit of luck Saturday when John Palmes spotted it on the road leading to the Boy Scout Camp north of Juneau.
“I knew immediately that it was a turtle,” he said.
Palmes also knew it shouldn’t be in the wild, let alone outdoors in Southeast Alaska.
It was a snapping turtle — an animal not native to this area. The turtle was cold, Palmes said, but alive and feisty when he went to pick it up.
Despite living in Juneau for the last 43 years, Palmes has been around his fair share of turtles. He grew up in New York state and spent his youth catching reptiles. He even had a few box turtles as pets.
So when he spotted the textured shell and pointed head, he knew the species immediately. He also knew how to handle it and keep it wet, cool and calm to prevent it from expending valuable energy.
“It’s clear this animal has been well cared for,” he said. “Based on the growth rings on the shell, it’s clear this animal experienced rapid growth in its early years, which is not necessarily common for turtles.”
Palmes said he’s nearly certain the turtle was recently released, based on conversations with locals and the turtle’s overall health. What he doesn’t know is why the reptile was released or how much longer he’ll be able to keep the turtle in his care.
“I live on a sailboat in Harris Harbor,” he said. “I just don’t have the room.”
Palmes said he spoke to an employee at the Wee Fishie Shoppe who knew of the turtle. The employee said it was brought up by a family moving to Juneau years ago. That family couldn’t keep the animal, apparently, so they found it a new home with the help of the local pet shop. According to Palmes, the turtle changed hands as recently as two or three weeks ago.
“Basically, whoever had it moved out of town and gave it to someone, they must have released it into the water,” he said.
Regardless of when or why it got there, its presence in the Southeast ecosystem would not be a welcome one, said Assistant Area Management Biologist Anthony Crupi.
“Terrestrial turtles are absolutely not native to Southeast Alaska,” he said. “We do have a lot of sea turtles that will find their way to the area. But this is obviously a pet that was released.”
Crupi said even one non-native species can make an impact on an ecosystem.
“When we introduce these non-native species into our ecosystem, it can be detrimental to native fish and wildlife species,” he said. “It could certainly prey on fish wherever it was released and compete. I definitely think it’s possible.”
For instance, Crupi said, there was an instance on Chichagoff Island where amphibians raised in a science class were released. They have survived because of our temperate climate, he said. Besides potentially upsetting an ecosystem, Crupi said non-native species can also introduce diseases.
With the non-native snapping turtle out of the environment, Palmes is now looking for someone willing to take it as a pet.
The turtle, which Palmes estimates is about 7 years old and female, would need only the basics. He said it can be kept at room temperature in a large aquarium or rubber tote. It needs clean, fresh water weekly, a heat lamp and as an omnivore will eat everything from dragon fly larvae and fish to apples and salad items.
Since the find, Palmes said he’s kept the turtle cool and moist. He hasn’t fed it because with such a cold core body temperature, the turtle would not likely be able to digest the food, he said.
But he’s hoping to find a home for the animal soon.
Anyone interested in taking the turtle may call Palmes at 586-2252 or contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Contact Outdoors editor Abby Lowell at email@example.com.