The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is reminding motorists that turtles are crossing roads to nest this time of year. Motorists are asked to watch for them and, whenever possible, allow them to cross the road safely.
Each year at this time, many female turtles move from lakes, ponds, wetlands, rivers and streams to nesting areas. They are looking for suitable locations to deposit their eggs. Many nesting areas are a significant distance from turtles’ wintering areas. As they attempt to cross roads, moving at a turtle’s pace, many are hit and killed by cars. Roadway mortality is believed to be a major factor in turtle population declines throughout the United States.
“Wildlife rehabilitators have noticed an increase this year in turtles brought in with cracked shells after being struck by cars,” said DNR herpetologist Carol Hall. “Turtles pre-date dinosaurs by millions of years, and they’ve outlasted them. But, if we want them to be around into the future, we should lend a hand.”
Helping turtles safely cross roads can help preserve Minnesota’s turtles, Hall said. She provided a few pointers:
- Mostly importantly, don't put yourself or others in danger. Simply pulling off the road and turning on hazard lights may alert other drivers to slow down. Be aware of surroundings and traffic.
- 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.
- If necessary to pick them up, all turtles except snappers and softshells (also known as leatherbacks) should be grasped gently along the shell edge near the mid-point of the body. If it is a snapping turtle or softshell turtle, try to use a car mat and pull it across the road. Many turtles empty their bladder when lifted off the ground, so be careful not to drop them if they should suddenly expel liquid. Avoid excessive handling that can disrupt turtle behavior.
- Maintain direction of travel. Always move turtles in the same direction they were traveling when encountered. Turtles should always be moved across roadways in as direct a line as possible.
- Help document turtle crossing and mortality areas by participating in the Minnesota Turtle Crossing Tally and Count Project. More information can be found at mndnr.gov.
- Turtles injured while trying to cross the road may be taken to your nearest permitted wildlife rehabilitator.
More information about Minnesota’s nine turtle species is available on the DNR website.