There are so many different turtle species in Pennsylvania (view the species ID list here), some of these being endangered, all trying to cross roads around this time! April is usually the start of the mating season so males are looking for females and females are looking for good nesting spots. In their searches, many turtles will have to cross roads due to habitat fragmentation. There’s a very simple solution to avoid making turtle pancakes as you zoom down the road, and that’s pulling over and helping the little guys out!
If you quickly spot a turtle that’s trying to cross a road, pull over and turn on the four-way blinkers. Make sure that other drivers notice you so that you can stay safe while trying to keep the turtle safe! When you reach the turtle, pick it up by holding on to both sides of the shell right behind the front legs. Never pick up a turtle by their tail! Pulling on it can, and most likely will, cause serious and permanent damage to their spines and you are trying to save the turtle after all! These little turtles may be surprised and a little scared by a strange creature lifting them up, so they may struggle and kick before tucking their limbs and head inside their shell. In order to prevent the turtle from falling during its struggle or injuring themselves, carry them as close to the ground as possible.
Snapping turtles are larger and more aggressive than your typical turtle, but they still need help crossing the road! If you see one of these, don’t pass on and don’t be afraid! Instead of picking this turtle up, gently nudge it from behind in the direction that it’s already going. Another good idea is to gently scoop up the turtle using a snow shovel (if you keep that in your car) and transport it to the other side of the road.
Once you’ve safely helped the turtle, drop it off around 30 feet away from the road. This ensures that if the turtle becomes disoriented from the shock of being picked up, it will be able to correct itself before it gets to the road again. Never turn the turtle around; always take it in the direction that it is already going in! There are some turtle species that are so focused on their mission of crossing the road, that they can easily become disoriented and then lost. They may wander around aimlessly trying to figure out where they were originally going.
By safely getting the turtle across the road, you are directly impacting the turtle population! One of the biggest reasons that turtle populations are declining as fast as they are is due to road fatality. Bog Turtles, one of the endangered turtle species in Pennsylvania, have a need a very specific type of habitat; one that includes marshy meadows near flat or gently rolling landscapes. This habitat type is one of the best types to build residential areas, therefor increasing the amount of roads that cuts through the Bog Turtle’s habitat. As more roads get built, more of these cute turtles get run over. While you may feel more inclined to transport one of these rescued Bog Turtles to a completely different location, trying to get them out of busier areas, this really isn’t the best thing for them! Bog turtles are suited only to this specific type of habitat, and removing them and placing them in forested regions would be bad for them as well.
Another reason not to move turtles to a different location is because they are very much “homebodies.” Turtles have a specific territory that they know extremely well! They know every hiding, nesting, and feeding spot. They know every rock and log that gets good sun for basking in. They know where the predators might live. Removing them will decrease their chance of survival because they don’t know the territory that they have been moved to. This transition will also increase the chance of genetic mutations and disease spreading from one turtle population to another, again decreasing the chances of survival for the populations.
All you need to do is help get them safely across the road in the direction that they’re going and you will be making a huge contribution to their conservation!
If you’re looking for more information, check out these links here!
Bog Turtle Information and Snapping Turtle Road Crossing Care
Why NOT to remove turtles from their habitat