TURTLES ON THE MOVE (April through to October)
Turtle season begins when the turtles emerge from brumation (hibernation) in April. The seasonal shift from winter to spring varies each year dependent on the temperatures and weather patterns. The one constant is that turtle road crossings are soon to follow and last years hatchlings that stayed in their nest over the winter (overwintering) will begin to exit their nests. Little turtles that overwintered are more inclined to show up later in April and into May. Once spring like weather sets in expect to see turtles on and near the roads and ATV trails.
If you stop to assist a turtle across the road or retrieve an injured turtle from the road it is imperative to make ‘SAFETY YOUR #1 PRIORITY!’ Every time you stop to help a turtle please ensure your own safety, the safety of any passengers with you and the safety of the other motorists on the roads.
Pull off the road and onto the shoulder as far as possible and put on your hazard lights. Do not stop your vehicle in the middle of a road lane and exit your vehicle. If there is no shoulder drive until you find one and safely double back on foot.
A safety vest is highly recommended to have in your vehicle at all times. Wearing one while assisting a turtle across the road will increase your visibility. Please wear gloves when assisting a turtle for your sake and their sake. If you do not wear gloves be sure to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after handling a turtle.
Always move the turtle in the direction the turtle was headed even if it makes no sense to you. If you turn the turtle around the turtle will end up back on the road again heading to the designation they originally intended. This may put the turtle in harms way a second time and we don’t want that. After assisting the turtle off the road maintain the path the turtle was on by placing the turtle at least 30 feet from the road (not on the road shoulder) in the direction they were headed, so if especially stressed by the experience, the turtle does not end up back on the road moments later.
Do ‘NOT’ relocate a turtle to your idea of a ‘better place’. Turtles have small home territories and are located where they are because the area suits their seasonal habitat needs. They should be left in the area they are found, their survival depends on it.
ASSISTED ROAD CROSSINGS
It is always best and less stressful for a turtle if they are able to cross the road unassisted. If there is no oncoming traffic, let the turtle cross the road without help. Observe from a distance. Avoid sudden movements that may alarm the turtle and cause the turtle to change direction, stop, or seek shelter within their shell.
If an unassisted turtle road crossing is not possible it is hoped you will find the following information helpful.
Although your intentions may be well meant if you are not comfortable with a hands on approach to assisting medium to larger sized turtles across the road please refrain from attempting this to avoid possible harm to yourself and the turtle.
Dropping a turtle from even a short distance can cause an injury to them. Please keep in mind mid May to mid July many turtles crossing roads are egg-laden females looking for appropriate nesting sites. June is the peak month for nesting.
Hatchlings & Small Sized Turtles (All Species)
When assisting a hatchling or small turtle out of harms way you can gently pick-up the turtle with a finger and thumb. Hatchlings have soft shells so do not grasp too firmly. Place your thumb on the rear of the shell and your forefinger underneath, between the rear legs. Avoid excessive handling this can disrupt their normal behavior.
Juvenile & Medium Sized Turtles
As small sized turtles grow and gain some size be sure to keep your fingers away from their face as they are capable of causing a small flesh wound if they bite you. Pick up a juvenile to medium sized turtle by grasping the shell edge near the mid-point of the body with two hands, like you would a hamburger. Your grip should be gentle but firm so you do not drop the turtle. They do tend to wiggle around at times as a reaction to not being handled.
Note: All turtles have longer necks then perhaps realized and are capable of biting if a person puts their hands, arms or other fleshy parts near the turtles face. Some turtles will hiss as well, again as a sign of not wanting to be handled.
Special care is required when assisting a snapping turtle across the road. These turtles may be as much as 19 inches long, weigh up to 36 pounds and have powerful legs and jaws. To handle a large snapping turtle safely, ‘AVOID’ the front half of the turtle’s body. Be sure that your hands and arms are beyond the reach of the snapping turtles long neck at all times.
There are many ways to physically assist a snapping turtle across the road. The best way is a personal choice and comes down to two things. The comfort level of the person looking to help the turtle and the size of the snapping turtle.
(A) Grasping The Back of the Shell – Approach the turtle from behind. Avoid loud noises or bumping the turtle before picking up. Wearing gloves is particularly recommended as they provide additional protection and a better grip. It is important that your movement and actions be careful and swift. Lingering and hovering near or over a snapping turtle will unintentionally cause them undue stress and give them more time to become difficult.
Make sure your hands are behind the turtles back legs, and you have a good grip before lifting the snapping turtle. The shell (carapace) may be slimy from algae growth and the water.
Lift the turtle off the road and move safely and quickly, keeping the turtle as low to the ground as possible to prevent serious injury if you drop the turtle. Be prepared for the turtle to be snapping and moving their legs while in your grip. Keep the turtles head pointed away from your body,
because their neck is long and flexible, and hold the turtle as far away from your body as you can while moving the turtle. Some turtles empty their bladder when lifted off the ground, so be careful not to drop the turtle if this suddenly occurs.
Place the turtle on the ground gently. Once you release your grip from the turtles shell, step back quickly. Snapping turtles often spin around to face their predator, snap and bounce in a lunging motion. Leave the turtle alone to recover from being handled.
(B) Towel Over Back of the Shell – This is our preferred method for assisting a turtle across the road. It is the same as described in (A) but we use a towel instead of gloves. Approach the turtle from behind. Quickly place a towel over the back section of the snapping turtles shell and grasp the turtle by the back of the shell, with one hand on each side. The towel allows for a really good grip and helps to contain the turtles back legs reducing the risk of getting scratched by the turtle’s long sharp claws. Note: Photo B is a good representation of this method but placing your hands a little closer to the back of the shell is advised.
How To Help A Snapping Turtle Across The Road (Think Turtle YouTube Video)
(C) Pizza Tray Method – While wearing gloves, approach the turtle from behind. Place one hand on the base of the turtle’s tail to help stabilize and secure the turtle and slide the other hand halfway under the turtle’s shell.
(D) Car Mat Method – Use a floor mat from your car (or any other handy flat, thin object such as cardboard), and carefully drag the turtle onto it. By using a car mat or putting something under the turtle, you can slide the turtle in the direction it was headed. Then, keeping your hand on the back of the turtle’s shell, drag the mat and turtle across the road. Using a car mat can be a good way to help the turtles across without actually picking them up.
(E) Wheelbarrow Method – Imitating the action of tilting a wheel barrow up firmly, approach the turtle from behind and grasp the back of the turtle’s shell near the back legs. Lift the rear end of the turtle up and walk the turtle forward. In most cases the turtle will move forward on its front legs. If the turtle does not help out you may need to carefully drag the turtle across the road. Not a fan of this method being concerned the paved road may cause abrasions to the fleshy parts of the turtle. If the turtle cooperates it is a method that works well.
Assisting a snapping turtle is entirely possibly without actually touching the turtle.
The most popular non-handling method used to assist a snapping turtle across the road is a shovel. Many people are known to travel with a shovel in their vehicle during turtle season. People use a variety of different types of shovels but plastic ‘snow shovels’ are more often the shovel of choice because of their size and construction.
(F) Shovel To Scoop – The shovel can be used depending on the size of the turtle to gently scoop the turtle off the road and carry him/or her across the road in the direction the turtle was headed. It is very important that the shovel is not raised too high off the ground and that the shovel is big enough to contain the turtle so they do not fall out and sustain an injury. It is for this reason snow shovels are more commonly used.
(G) Shovel To Guide – The second way a snow shovel can be used is by standing behind the turtle and using it to carefully coax and help negotiate the turtle across the road.
(H) Up Close Monitored Crossing – Some people prefer not to handle turtles and that is of course understood. If it is safe for you to do so sometimes just standing behind a turtle on the road is enough to prompt them to pick-up their pace and proceed across the road. This can sometimes instead cause a turtle to become startled and veer off the path they were head. If possible try not to get too close. Wearing a safety vest is important when near or on the road.
(I) Road Shoulder – Another method used to assist a turtle across a road is to do so from the road shoulder with a safety vest on and alert oncoming motorists to the fact that there is a turtle on the road. This may involve pointing, waving your arms or a brightly colored item. In doing so this may even prompt a passerby that is more comfortable handling snapping turtles to safety pull off the road to assist the turtle across the road. There has been a significant increase in awareness to the challenges the turtles face and it is not uncommon for concerned citizens to stop and safely assist a turtle across the road.
(J) Old Timer Crossing – If you encounter a very large old snapping turtle it is best to safely clear the way for the turtle and alert oncoming traffic. Please wear a safety vest to ensure you are visible! It may take a while for the turtle to complete the journey across the road. Most oncoming traffic will be sensitive to this and excited to see such a treasured and wonderful sight. These days in such circumstances another person may stop to alert oncoming traffic.
When it comes to assisting turtles across the road some people have been know to use whatever is at hand for unexpected turtle encounters. Alternative items used have included, tarps, rugs, small sheet of plywood, kid’s winter flying carpet, wagons, police escorts, etc. to safely assist a turtle across the road and keep all parties concerned safe.
ASSISTING A TURTLE ACROSS THE ROAD (Graphic)
METHODS 'NOT' TO USE
(1) Dragging – A method that has been used in the past and should ‘NOT’ be used is offering a snapping turtle a branch, or hockey stick, broom handle, ratchet strap, piece of rope, etc. with the intention being for the snapping turtle to bite down on the item placed in front of their mouth. Followed by a person dragging the snapping turtle across the road. This method has resulted in unfortunate injuries to turtles over the years due to people accidentally pulling with too much force. This is an outdated method that can cause an injury to a turtle and/or snap the turtle’s neck. Thankfully we now know better not to use this method. Word needs to spread on this one though as some people do this use this method.
(2) Tail – A turtle should ‘NEVER’ be picked up by the tail. Their tail is fused to their spine. Handling a turtle in this manner has the potential to cause serious injury and/or paralyze the turtle.
There are many videos available online to view on the subject of assisting turtles across the road, each offering a demonstration and pointers. For people new to helping turtles it is very important for you to know that the snapping turtles often used in videos appear passive. These are ‘teaching turtles used by conservation organizations with permits for turtles to be used in such ways for educational purposes. These turtles are used to being handled a lot by their permit holders and because of this often appear calm and passive in videos. In the wild, a snapping turtle you encounter on a road may appear passive at first but once you approach the turtle to assist him/her they will snap, swing around to face you and/or lunge in your direction. This behavior can make them appear aggressive. The snapping turtle is not looking to attack you. The turtle is looking to protect itself. It is worth noting that when we approach a turtle in the wild for any reason, even if well intended such as to assist the turtle across a road, we know we are there to help the turtle, they do not know this and perceive us as a large menacing predator. As such they understandably revert to ‘self preservation’ mode.
ACTS OF KINDNESS
It is truly remarkable the lengths some people have gone to helping turtles across the road. Many turtles have been saved because of these kind acts. Over the years we have heard some very interesting accounts and some on the comical side. Thank you so much for looking out for the turtles and doing what you do to help protect this most vulnerable species at risk.
If you have any questions regarding this subject or other turtle related matters please do not hesitate to contact Think Turtle Conservation Initiative at 647-606-9537 (phone/text) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for looking out for species at risk!
Blanding's turtle assisted across the road.