DENVER, CO—Every October, entire populations of pond turtles from across Denver’s urban parks system pack their bags to head south for the winter. It’s an instinctual behavior that ensures their survival, as falling temperatures cause their food sources to die off. Worms, snails, insects, larvae, and aquatic plants all become scarce when the mercury dips.
The annual winter turtle migration is a recurring event by which turtle enthusiasts set their clocks. But for reasons turtle lovers have yet to understand, the urban turtles behaved differently this year. October came and went. November came and went. December did too. Despite a handful of snow events occurring throughout the city during the final months of the year, it wasn’t until mid-January that the turtles showed signs of embarking on their southward journey.
Turtle watchers at Sloan’s Lake Park said confusion over the turtles’ strange behavior this winter has rattled their community.
“In a typical year, we expect to see the turtles depart en masse around the time city residents start raking leaves,” they explained. “The fact that these shelled reptiles chose to stick around all the way into mid-January is truly puzzling. We don’t know what to make of it. We found ourselves wondering if some sort of miscalculated group think phenomenon was at play. But then we realized that doesn’t make sense either. No one has ever witnessed urban turtles engaging in group think behavior.”
A Denver-based turtle buff, who conducts most of his turtle research from Wash Park’s Grasmere Lake, says the situation isn’t so murky: “Humans expect urban turtle migration patterns to be predictable and consistent from year to year. But that’s not how these social, intelligent reptiles operate. They take many factors into consideration when planning their winter migration, like how is the alpha turtle feeling, is their pond water getting cold, have they been caching snails, are the geese being moody. By happenstance these factors have historically shaken out in such a way that the turtles annual departure coincides with the first October snow. Things just shook out differently this year.”
While turtle hobbyists across the city continue to seek answers for why the turtles delayed their migration this winter, one thing is certain: everyone is relieved to finally bid their favorite shelled reptiles farewell until spring.