If you drive down a country road or through neighborhood street in the spring, you’re likely to see at least one turtle trying to cross the road and maybe even some that didn’t make it across the road. Sometimes you’ll even see them on big four-lane roads.
It’s hard to see a turtle with his head and tail pulled back into his shell while cars go speeding past him.
Several years back, I saw one such tiny turtle making slow progress across a four lane road that led to the local airport. I had a few minutes to spare before I had to pick up my parents, so I pulled over and started walking along the side of the road back to where I spotted the turtle in the road.
I made it about half way back to the spot when a state trooper pulls up beside me, rolls down his window, and asks if I need some help.
I explained what I was doing and he broke into a wide grin and started to laugh! With a smile, he offered to take care of it for me and suggested I get back in the safety of my car. Needless to say, I must have made for a funny sight schlepping down the muddy side of the road in my dress and flats after a turtle. Thanks to the officer for making a turtle rescue that day!
Saving turtles from becoming roadkill
While I have stopped many times to help turtles across the road (usually just little guys), at the time, I didn’t realize that turtles must be handled in a particular manner both for your safety and for theirs. So, let’s talk about the best way to help a turtle cross the street.
Why did the turtle cross the road?
To get to the other side of course! But seriously, turtles travel to find a mate, to find safe places to lay their eggs, to find a new place to live, or just to find food. Spring is the perfect time for this – it’s time to branch out and reproduce.
The first rule of fight club, er, I mean turtle saver club
The first rule is — don’t do anything to put yourself or others in danger. I mean it! Some roads are heavily traveled, and some people drive really, really fast. I know you want to help that cute little turtle, but please don’t risk your life or cause an accident.
Park your car safely off of the road, turn on your hazard lights, check for traffic, and use your best judgment for staying safe.
Don’t confuse the turtle
Always move the turtle in the direction it was facing. Apparently, turtles have a terrible sense of direction if you swirl them around, drive them to a new location, or turn them around.
But they’re stubborn and want to go where they were headed in the first place. So, if you move a turtle back where it came from, it will continue to try and cross the street.
If you move it to a new location, it might roam around aimlessly lost. Poor turtle!
Handle with care
Never grab a turtle by the tail! The vertebrae of a turtle are attached to its shell and run through the its tail. If you use its tail like a handle, you put too much pressure on it and you might just dislocate its spine! *shudder*
Don’t pick a turtle up by the sides of the shell! This is sage advice from our friends at the USFWS, but this time, you’ll benefit from this tip. Some turtles (particularly snapping turtles and soft shell turtles) have really long necks and can be really aggressive when handled (they’re scared!). If you grab them in the wrong place, they might just reach back to bite you.
If you’ve ever seen a snapping turtle snap a twig in its mouth, you know you don’t want your fingers in its mouth.
Safe handling demonstration
This video from the Toronto Zoo demonstrates safe methods to move all kinds of turtles off of a road, including snapping turtles (that is one patient snapping turtle in the video!)
So, go out, save a turtle, and be safe!