Turtles and Roads Are a Deadly Combination
Assisting them in a proper manner helps ensure survival of species
To help mark World Turtle Day today, Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is reminding residents to be on the lookout for turtles crossing roads. May through July is the nesting season for many turtles. At this time, egg-bearing females travel across land, and sometimes roads, to find the perfect location to dig a nest and lay eggs. Aquatic turtles also leave the water in search of terrestrial nesting sites.
The purpose of World Turtle Day, May 23, sponsored by American Tortoise Rescue, is to bring attention to, and increase knowledge of and respect for, turtles and tortoises, and encourage human action to help them survive and thrive.
“Connecticut’s landscape is highly fragmented by busy roads, and many turtles are forced to travel great distances – and across roadways – to find suitable nesting habitat,” said Rick Jacobson, Director of the DEEP Wildlife Division. “Helping a turtle move across the road can be the difference between life and death for the animal, and for future generations, but your safety comes first. Be sure to assist a turtle in the road only when it is safe to do so and do not attempt to stop traffic.”
“Research has shown that aquatic turtle populations across the United States have uncommonly high proportions of males because so many female turtles are being killed on roadways,” said Jacobson.
Guidance on Assisting Turtles
Always keep the turtle pointed in the direction it is going. If you turn it around in the other direction, the turtle will only make another attempt to cross the road. Also, DO NOT move the turtle to a “better spot,” and DO NOT put terrestrial box turtles in a lake, pond, or other water body – leave the turtle in the same area where it was found once it is removed from the road. Turtles have a home range and females often return to the same general area to lay their eggs. Snapping turtles can be large, heavy, and feisty, so if you are unable to “shoo” them across the road, pick them up by the back of their shells above their legs and tail, NOT by their tail, to avoid a bite. Some people use a shovel or a stick to push or skid snapping turtles across the road.
Turtles have a long lifespan, take a long time to reach sexual maturity, and have low survivorship when newly hatched. Because of these attributes, turtle populations cannot compensate for losses due to adult mortality without experiencing long-term consequences. With turtle populations requiring high levels of adult survivorship, every individual is important to a population’s stability. This concern is even greater in recent years because many U.S. turtle populations are becoming fragmented, isolated, and progressively smaller.
In your travels, if you encounter a turtle in the road, just remember this motto: “Give turtles a break and help them cross if it is safe.”
Keep Wild Turtles Wild
Do not be tempted to take a turtle you come across to keep as a pet. Turtles should be left in the wild both for your own good and the good of the turtle.
"Removing individual turtles from the wild, including hatchlings, can have a huge impact on the local population," said Jenny Dickson, Supervising Wildlife Biologist with the DEEP Wildlife Division. "Every individual is important to the population’s stability."
Keep in mind that caring for a pet turtle is not as easy as you may think. Turtles require specific temperatures, diets, and lighting for digestion and shell health. Cages must be kept clean as turtles can carry salmonella. And, turtles live a long time – 50 to 100 years for an eastern box turtle (which is illegal to collect and possess in Connecticut).
Once the novelty of having a turtle as a pet wears off, the owner is faced with a decision of what to do with it. "Captive turtles, whether they were collected from the wild or bought at a pet store, should never
be released to the wild," stressed Dickson. "Released turtles rarely survive, frequently introduce undetectable respiratory or other diseases to wild populations, and in the case of non-native species, may harm native turtle populations." The best way to enjoy turtles is to watch them in their native habitat. Help keep wild turtles wild and leave them where you find them. Instead of collecting turtles, take photographs instead. Share your photos on the Connecticut Fish and Wildlife Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CTFishandWildlife
. Those interested in learning about Connecticut’s turtles can visit DEEP’s turtle webpage at www.ct.gov/deep/yearofturtle
Photo: Credit Paul J. Fusco/DEEP Wildlife Division
May through June is a critical period when female turtles, like this box turtle, undertake risky overland forays to reach nesting areas. During this time, they often cross roads, sometimes with fatal consequences. Be on the lookout for turtles crossing roads and give them a “brake!”
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