Turtles and tortoises are often confused. The biggest difference between the two are that turtles, for the most part, live in the water and tortoises live on land. Tortoises have strong, sturdy feet and turtles have webbed feet with claws or flippers. For our intents and purposes, when they need help, they should be treated similarly.
Both tortoises and turtles are “on their own at a very early age and need no help form parents. If you find a baby turtle with no injuries, he is very likely doing just fine. A good sign that a turtle or tortoise needs help is if it has a cracked or broken shell, swelling of eyelids or ears, a discharge coming from it’s eyes or nose or if it is “blowing bubbles” which is a sign of respiratory infection. The best thing to do is to put on a pair of gloves, grab it from either sides of the shell, place it into a box and/or call The Wildlife Center of Venice. It is very important not to grab it by the tail because it can cause spinal injuries. Also, some turtles have very long necks so be sure to grab it near the middle or slightly towards the back. Since some turtles are slippery and will kick a bit, it is a good idea when moving a turtle or tortoise, to keep it low to the ground in case it escapes from your grasp.
The same can be done to help turtles or tortoises that are crossing the road and it is important to move them at least 10 feet off of the side of the road in the direction that they were heading. Swerving around tortoises that are in the road isn’t recommended, the driver behind you may not see it until the last minute. It is never a good idea to put a tortoise or turtle in the water, tortoises can’t swim and will drown. Both turtles and tortoises are territorial and should not be relocated.
Fun facts: Gopher tortoises, that are commonly seen in our neighborhoods are listed as threatened species and are very important to the rest of Florida Wildlife. Their burrows can be 50 feet long and 8 feet deep and 360 different species have been noted to make their homes in their burrows. Only 5% of all gopher tortoise eggs ever make it through their first year of life. Some of the luckier ones have been known to live up to 75 years!