WHY DID THE TURTLE CROSS THE ROAD?

In late spring and early summer, we start receiving calls from people finding turtles in the middle of our busy roadways. Why do turtles cross the road this time of year and what can we do to help them?

How to move a snapping turtle

Summer Camp Environmental Educator Lauren Miller saves a common snapping turtle from oncoming traffic.

The common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) is a sizable, native turtle seen in and around the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes, especially in our Big Marsh and Lower Lake habitats.

As the weather warms up, common snapping turtles, as well as other turtle species, start “looking for love in all the wrong places.” Spring and early summer is prime turtle mating time in North America. Males start to search for females and females search for good nesting sites, which can often be in our backyards and flowerbeds. Because turtles are naturally slow moving, ectothermic (cold-blooded) reptiles, co-habitating with us in the middle of our urban areas, this can often result with turtles being stranded in the middle of roadways, sidewalks, and areas of high traffic.

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO KEEP TURTLES SAFE?

1. WATCH THE ROAD.

When driving in residential areas, be mindful of wildlife. Distracted driving can result in hitting, injuring, and killing wildlife such as white-tailed deer, raccoon, Virginia opossum, Canada geese, and more. As we start to develop more land for ourselves, wildlife loses important habitat space.

 

2. BE SAFE.

Always keep your own safety in mind first before trying to help an animal. Watch for oncoming vehicles, signal properly when pulling to the side of the road, and recognize your surroundings. If the turtle is injured, call the wildlife rehabilitation center closest to you. If the turtle is alive – what species is it? Look for proper nearby habitats to relocate the turtle safely. If you are able to recognize it as a terrapin, or freshwater turtle, relocate it to the nearest pond or body of water. If it is an Eastern box turtle, or other land-dwelling turtle, pick it up and place it on the other side of the road. In either case, it is important that you move the turtle in the direction it was headed. This is important, as turtles will re-cross a street they were trying to cross in order to get where they’re going.

 

3. BE THOUGHTFUL.

If you are able to pick the turtle up safely, gently scoop it up with one hand on each side of the back of the shell. Be cautious, as many turtles – especially snapping turtles – will try to bite when frightened, so it is important to hold turtles on the sides of the back end of the shell. Never pick a turtle up by the tail, as this could break their tail vertebrae causing a painful injury. Gently moving an especially large or heavy snapping turtle on to your car mat is also a great technique that will keep you (your fingers!) and the turtle, safe and happy.

 

4. GET INVOLVED.

iNaturalist

Yep! There’s an app for that! Be a wildlife steward! There are several free or low-cost apps where you can document and even track wildlife from your smartphone. Here are a few of our favorite citizen science apps:

Seek by iNaturalist

iNaturalist

HerpMapper

Project Noah

Spotteron

…and so many more!

Still have questions? Feel free to leave comments below!

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