ALLENDALE, N.J. – The sign on Franklin Turnpike in Allendale, right by the Celery Farm Natural Area , reads: “Snapping Turtle Migration / Watch for Turtles In Roadway.”
It was to remain up for a few more days.
“The turtles don’t exactly migrate,” explained Jim Wright, deputy marsh warden of the Celery Farm. “But they often cross Franklin Turnpike to lay their eggs, and the borough wants to warn drivers to be careful.”
Wright, who writes The Celery Farm and Beyond blog , calls the area “the turtle capital of Bergen County.”
Adult snapping turtles, which are the size of hubcaps, lay lots of eggs, which look like ping pong balls. The turtles dig a hole, lay their eggs, throw a little dirt on them, and head back for the waters of Lake Appert in the Celery Farm.
The babies are on their own as soon as they hatch.
“Their strategy for reproduction is this: if we lay 1,000 eggs and the raccoons dig up only 990 of them, then we have 10 more snapping turtles,” Wright said.
He should know. He lives next to the Celery Farm. His yard, and those of several of his neighbors on either side of the roadway, are maternity wards for snapping turtles.
About 15 turtles lay their eggs on his property.
A single turtle lives more than 20 years, according to Wright, author of the book, “In the Presence of Nature: The Celery Farm Natural Area, Allendale, New Jersey.”
On a warm day, people walking through the scenic, one-mile loop path at the Celery Farm can see turtle heads by the dozens sticking up out of the water, he said.
“They’re like U-boats. Their heads come up like periscopes,” he said. “They peer around the waters looking for things to attack.”
Ecologically speaking, the snapping turtles serve a purpose. They’ll take down anything, including herons and great egrets, Wright said.
But they also cut down on swans, a non-native species that can drive out other birds and rip up native plants — an undesirable situation.
“Snapping turtles also will eat baby wood ducks,” he said. “But raccoons eat the heck out of snapping turtle eggs. Everybody’s preying on everybody else. It’s the cycle of nature.”