How should I help a turtle get across road?
Editor’s note: The following is part of an Echo Press feature, “You Asked.” Readers are invited to send a question and we’ll try to get to the bottom of it. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
With turtles on the move to nesting locations, a reader asked, “What should I do if I come across a turtle trying to cross the road?”
First, don’t do what some drivers do by purposely running over them.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says that allowing turtles to cross the roads is vital to the preservation of regional populations.
“Many turtles and other species are killed on Minnesota roads each year, especially during the nesting season,” said Carol Hall, DNR herpetologist, “In fact, roadway mortality is believed to be a major factor in turtle population declines throughout the United States.”
In Minnesota, Hall said turtles can be on the move for a variety of reasons: in connection with seasonal movements between different wetland habitats; during the annual early summer nesting migration of egg laden females; or when newly hatched youngsters seek out the backwaters and ponds for their permanent home.
Turtles can travel many miles during a single year, and may even be found far from water.
Here, according to the DNR, is how you can give the turtles a helping hand:
•Think safety. Simply pulling off the road and turning on hazard lights may alert other drivers to slow down. Be aware of surroundings and traffic.
● Avoid excessive handling. While wanting to inspect turtles closely is understandable, excessive handling can disrupt normal behavior. Prolonged examination of turtles should therefore be limited to only one or two individuals of each species.
● Allow unassisted road crossings. When turtles can safely cross roads unaided due to a lack of oncoming traffic, allow them to do so. Observe from a distance and avoid rapid movements, as doing otherwise will often cause turtles to change direction, stop, or seek shelter within their shells.
● Handle turtles gently. If necessary to pick them up, all turtles except snappers and softshells, should be grasped gently along the shell edge near the mid-point of the body. Be advised that many turtles empty their bladder when lifted off the ground, so be careful not to drop them if they should suddenly expel water.
● Maintain direction of travel. Always move turtles in the same direction they were traveling in when encountered. Turtles should always be moved across roadways in as direct a line as possible. It may seem helpful to “assist” the turtle in its journey by moving them to a nearby water body, but it is important to remember the phrase, “If you care, leave it there.”