How to (Safely) Move a Turtle across the Road

moving a turtle across the road

You’re driving down a back-country road and suddenly there’s a turtle on the road. What do you do? Read on to learn how to move a turtle across the road.

Most of the species of freshwater turtles that live in Canada live in lakes or wetlands — like marshes and swamps. If the turtles remained in those areas they would be relatively safe. Unfortunately, turtles frequently leave this relative safety to lay eggs or move between wetlands.

Road mortality is an important threat to most freshwater turtles. Turtles move across roads at the speed of, well, turtles. Even if a turtle perceives a car approaching it, there is little chance that it is capable of getting off the road quickly enough to avoid being hit.

Here’s where you can come to their rescue! You can save a turtle from being hit by a car by helping it across the road. Here are some tips on moving turtles.

Step 1: Safety!

First of all, make sure it is safe to help the turtle. Look both ways before heading out onto the road. If there are cars coming, don’t risk your life.

Step 2: Get a Good Handle on the Situation (and the turtle!)

It is fairly easy to pick up a turtle – unless you’re dealing with a Snapping Turtle (more on that later). Use both hands and grab the turtle on both sides of the shell. The turtle may not appreciate or understand that they are being rescued from the road. It may scratch or pee on you, so be prepared for this. If you have a firm grip on the turtle with two hands you are less likely to drop it if it does scratch you.

move a turtle across the road
Make sure you know what direction the turtle is heading.

Step 3: Make Sure to Move in the Right (or Left) Direction

Always move the turtle in the direction that it is going. It knows where it wants to go. Release the turtle on the gravel shoulder of the road and it will likely quickly shuffle away from you and the road.

Take a bow, as you just saved a turtle!

Snapping Turtle

Snapping Turtles are Special

Moving Snapping Turtles — especially large ones — is more challenging. Snapping Turtles can be fast and they can bite. They can also spin around quickly or even lunge. Do not grab the sides of the shell of a Snapping Turtle as the head may whip around and bite you.

One option to move a Snapping Turtle is the wheelbarrow method – grab the back of the shell near the back legs, lift the rear end of the turtle, and walk it forward. The turtle will either walk forward on its front legs or it can be slid forward. The paved road will not harm the tough skin of the turtle.

Another option is to get the turtle to bite a long stick and drag the turtle off the road. If you happen to have a shovel, used it to lift and move a Snapping Turtle off the road. Don’t lift the shovel too far above the road as the turtle may try to move and fall off the shovel.

Learn more about how you can help at HelptheTurtles.ca

David Seburn

Author: David Seburn

David Seburn is the Freshwater Turtle Specialist at the Canadian Wildlife Federation. David has worked on amphibian and reptile conservation for 20 years.

44 thoughts on “How to (Safely) Move a Turtle across the Road”

  1. Absolutely never drag a snapping turtle! By the tail or by it holding a stick! If you pull.its tail you can hurt it’s spine and if you drag by a stick you can give it terrible road rash! The reason they snap is because they can not fit inside their shells as their plasteron (belly shell) is small and their soft leg and arm skin hangs out, if it gets damaged they can get serious infections from the dirty water. The best way to move then is grab firmly at the base of the tail and slide the other hand under thwir belly lifting it like a pizza. Keep it low as if they snap they could recoil and fall. I’m so dissappointed that the CWF would suggest an inappropriate moving technique.

    1. Thanks for your response and concern about how to handle Snapping Turtles. We agree that dragging a Snapping Turtle across the road can lead to scratches on the turtle. Trying to balance the safety of people on roads with getting turtles quickly off the road is difficult. In our experience many people do not want to touch Snapping Turtles. People are often faced with little time to make a decision on how to move a turtle. Dragging a Snapping Turtle off the road is one simple way to save the turtles life. The accompanying video does show ways of safely moving a Snapping Turtle, but we agree and will add additional methods in the blog text as well.

      1. Then suggest they get onto a car mat and drag it that way letting it be drag by a stick is horrible, and I would expect an article from this organization to know that since I know it working for a wildlife education outreach team. You need better research and editors’. You’re teaching people the wrong things.

      1. About how long does it take to receive the sticker in the mail? I just emailed David requesting one.

  2. A yearly ritual for my wife and I on our way to and from the cottage on the weekends. We have rescued many over the years and had the good fortune of rescuing a Blanding’s turtle off Hwy 35 last spring. We keep a pair of heavy leather work gloves under the drivers seat of both our cars for the inevitable Snapping turtles we come across.

  3. Anyone who would stop and assist a turtle across might also simply carry a pair of gloves and a flat shovel/large stick in their trunk. Snappers really can be slimy and smelly, but that shouldn’t stop you from helping. I agree with the comment above to never grab one by the tail (which wasn’t even a suggestion in the article but probably should have been mentioned), but I’ve used both a shovel, and picked them up by the back of their shell (if small enough) just above the tail. Sometimes they just want to confront you, but you don’t have time so dragging them may be the only option…and better than the alternative of getting hit. I absolutely abhor people who intentionally hit them or flip them so they die. Be turtle ready and carry tools you will need with you throughout the season.

      1. I doubt that would be a good option. Use a towel or a car mat instead. Just allow the turtle to walk onto the towel or car floor mat and drag the towel or mat in the direction they are traveling. Then stop when you are safely off the road and allow them to continue their journey.

  4. I would like a step by step instruction on moving Snapping Turtles. I can figure out how to pick up Painted Turtles and Box Turtles. I do not think that it is a death sentence to leave the turtles alone.

      1. Being hit doesn’t mean they die right away. Some turtles live a day or so after being hit by a car. The problem is, it is hard to tell if a turtle is dead or alive from your car, so people often leave them. So in a way, being hit is a dead sentence, but if it looks mostly intact, it’s best to stop and see if you need to take it to a vet. I keep a box in my car this time of year, as there is always something needing a hand.

  5. Thank you all for the extra input. Some good tips. The last snapper I saved didn’t fight at all and I lifted him by the back of its shell and got them across. Busy highway, was quite a rush.

  6. I had my first experience at moving a snapping turtle off the road a few days ago. From a past attempt I knew how fast they can turn to face you with their mouths wide open! THAT one was left to fend for itself. I watched as it made it off the side of the road. This time, “Old Ironsides”, which weighed 30 lbs or more, came out of the weeds along the road and I got stopped but just barely. He stopped just in the middle of the road, inches from my front left tire. After sizing up my options, I lifted it from the sides of its shell and it squirmed from my hands. I got a shirt from my car and threw it over the turtle, again lifted all 30 lbs. by the sides of it’s shell and got its squirming body to the edge of the road where it squirmed free. I was able to scoot it off the road with the side of my foot and the jacket over it’s head. Next time, if there is ever another one, I will know more how to safely help. And by safety, I mean my own! A slowly squirmy “moose” of a turtle with 3 inch claws and a mouth that was looking to do harm, is nothing to underestimate.

  7. I think it would be wise to educate people on how to recognize a snapping turtle.
    I believe one way to recognize a snapping turtle is that snapping turtles gave a point on the back of their heads

  8. I have safely moved a couple of large snapping turtles by throwing a sweatshirt over the turtle, then I grasped the turtle by the middle of the shell on both sides, and the sweatshirt folded back over my hands. It seemed to confuse the turtle enough that I still have all my original fingers.

  9. The problem with grabbing it’s hind legs and then walking it across is that they usually pull their legs in. I’ve moved large snappers by grabbing them by toward the back of the shell (their necks can reach quite a bit around the shell) and walking them maybe 10 feet, putting them down (they are HEAVY!) and then restarting the process until they get to where they want to go.

  10. Another option you can try with a snapper is to lightly tap his rear with a stick. He may quickly run across the road. This worked for me. I wouldn’t suggest lifting them without gloves, they have extremely sharp claws which can slice your fingers. Use caution with snappers for your sake and his 🙂

    1. *Hers. Male turtles don’t cross the road. It’s always females, looking for their nursery where they lay their eggs.

  11. I just recently moved a snapping turtle from the middle of the road in Woodstock Ontario.
    Great points on how to move them safely. This is the second time in the last 2 years.
    I did have some help from another gentleman that stopped and helped me. There are good people in this world!

  12. I have never had a problem shuffling them along a little with my steel toe boots. They like to bite the boot but I just sort of push them a little and they usually shuffle along after giving my boot a bite and realizing they can’t really hurt it. I also think a few little scrapes from the pavement if you do have to get them bite a stick and drag a little (you don’t have to drag them hard, just help them walk in that direction they are going) is a good trade off to being squashed by a car. “too safe” is often not safe at all. I have used all the methods above plus my own of nudging them with my boots (but only steel toe, lol, don’t try this in cowboy boots)

  13. I helped a snapping turtle across the road by putting an old blanket from my car on it and carefully scooped the turtle up in it, and safely set the turtle down. It wandered off into a marshy area it was headed toward.

  14. One way to move a snapping turtle, if its safe to do so, is to lay out a small blanket and get it to crawl into the center and then wrap it up like a net. Then you can carry it across safely for both of you. But this only works IF, there is enough time to do so safely withoit other cars coming by. Other than that, the pizza method as mentioned before works well too. (I raised snappers for 7 years and got pretty familiar with them. Lol)

  15. It’s a good idea to turn on your emergency flashers and stop in your lane instead of pulling over to the side so people won’t try to pass you if you are in the middle of the road.

  16. While visiting my sister in the Hudson Valley in NY State, I went for a walk and encountered a turtle in mid-road, trying to cross. A car was approaching, so I held up my hand in a “stop” sign. The driver stopped and rolled down the window, and I said “turtle” and pointed to it. He patiently waited as I took the turtle, holding it by the back of the shell, across the road. My hand smelled like turtle till I could get to a faucet, but it was a very satisfying experience.

  17. I helped a large snapping turtle get across the road, picked it up by the back shell and thank God I held to the right of my legs because it let out a huge stream of urine. That’s the thanks I got

  18. I abhor people who hit turtles on purpose, I have seen one become a projectile and hit another person’s car. We have a creek near my Mom’s where the local traffic stops for the turtles, it can take up to 4 hours but we let them cross naturally. The Grandkids in the neighborhood stop the traffic and we all get out and watch the turtles. Some are really large. It’s a yearly treat.

  19. I keep a short handled wide shovel and a large fishing net in my truck. I put the net over the turtle and shove the shovel under it. I can lift even a large snapper and take it to the side of the road or put it in tne bed of the truck and drive to the nearest body of water. The turtle becomes tangled in the net and cannot get off the shovel;

  20. I’ve often used a toilet plunger on the back of the turtle. It works remarkably well. The hard smooth surface allows most plungers to stick and then I flip them so the legs are in the air . This way is easy for the turtle and I don’t get my hands sticky. A plunger in the back of the cat is important during the summer months for this reason.

  21. A woman in Quebec stopped on the side of a highway to assist a family of ducks.

    She caused a fatal accident when a following motorist rear-ended her vehicle. She was out of the car and unhurt, but she was held responsible for the accident. She was charged with manslaughter and convicted.

    Moral? Always use common sense, before stopping on the road for animals or anything else.

    You don’t want to save an animal and kill a human. (Or maybe you do… some people are sick that way. ) But it helps nobody to cause an accident.

  22. Dave, Is it true that a turtle that is moved or does move itself will roam aimlessly forever trying to get back to its location? Weeks ago we saved a huge one, He or She was fascinated with my bright blue snow brush and was trying to follow it and bite it while he was being led in the direction he was going. Emergency Flashers on so The SPCA who was on their way could walk the poor across to major road ways. She used a big flat shovel and you could see it paddling on the shovel. When it stopped for a minute a gal that was there got her water bottle and gave it water.. Seemed to be real thirsty! I guess we would be moving at that slow of a pace… I was told the roaming story and wondered if it were true. And last question: Why are so many huge turtles comming out at this point in time? To lay their eggs? What do they eat? I’m scared they’re going to be hit by cars by careless people ❤

  23. Got a question about a turtle in our relatively small fish pond. We have netting over the pond so that other critters can’t get to our fish (just a few goldfish in the pond). Do we just leave it, can it find food in the pond, or should we help it out and place it in the monkey grass around the pond?

  24. Once with a huge, spinning, hissing snapper, no-one could get hands near it. Two of us took my car blanket, one on each end holding the corners. We scooped it up and lifted it like a hammock and carried it across, letting go of two corners we were able to gently tip it off into the ditch and it went on it’s way. It was a heavy load for two. It was a fast and safe method for both us and the turtle,and accomplished what the three men and their paddles could not do….. Usually, with one that big, others cars will stop and you can get assistance if there is only one of you.

    1. Folks really are amazing, aren’t they? Most people are so willing to help wildlife when they see them in distress.

  25. Just helped a snapper out the other day. In PEC. Had to be at least 30lbs or more. Shovel wouldnt slide under her. She also was in pure attack mode. Every step around I took she swung around to face me and lunge. Eventually I was like “whatever, we are doing this and I am gonna win.” So I ran around to her backside as fast as I could and grabbed her shell both sides just slightly in front of her back legs and lifted. Only had to walk her about 8ft. But she kept lunging up towards my face and peeing the whole time. I survived and I would do it again. Glad I had gloves on for the claws. Powerful.

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