Why Did the Turtle Cross the Road?


Motorists beware: Minnesota turtles now crossing roads

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Transportation remind motorists to be careful of turtles crossing roads over the next several weeks as they move to familiar nesting locations.

Allowing turtles to cross the roads is vital to preserving 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, all turtles are mainly aquatic. Overland journeys usually occur 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 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.

“Citizens can help document road-mortality hotspots by reporting sightings of living and deceased turtles to the Minnesota Turtle Crossing Tally & Count Project,” said Chris Smith, MnDOT wildlife ecologist. “These data can be used to identify problematic areas and alert transportation departments.”

Giving turtles a hand
The following points should be remembered:

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. Do not swerve.
Avoid excessive handling. While wanting to inspect turtles closely is understandable, excessive handling can disrupt normal behavior. Prolonged examination of turtles should 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 or “leatherbacks” 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 suddenly drop them.
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 body of water, but it is important to remember the phrase, “If you care, leave it there.”
Document your find. Help document turtle crossing and mortality areas by participating in the Minnesota Turtle Crossing Tally & Count Project.
For more information, visit www.dnr.state.mn.us/reptiles_amphibians/helping-turtles-roads.html.

Leave a Reply