Why did the turtle cross the road? To get to the other side.
Not much of a joke but soon, in late May and June, many turtles are crossing roads to get to the other side to find a place to lay their eggs. And right now those turtles need a turtle hero to move them safely off the road.
Roadkill is a serious threat to turtles. Over the past few years, the CWF turtle team has documented over 1,400 dead turtles on roads in eastern Ontario. That is a staggering amount of roadkill which is likely not sustainable. A majority of the dead turtles we found were Painted Turtles, but we also found many Snapping Turtles and Blanding’s Turtles. Given that all freshwater turtles in Canada are species at risk, roadkill is another reason turtles are declining.
How to Be a Turtle Hero
We can all do our part by watching for turtles on roads, particularly when we are driving in rural areas close to lakes and wetlands.
First of all, if you see a turtle trying to cross the road, make sure it is safe to help. If the traffic isn’t too heavy and it is safe to do so, pull off onto the road shoulder and turn on the car’s four-way flashers. Look both ways before heading onto the road to save the turtle. If there are cars coming, don’t risk your life.
With the exception of Snapping Turtles it is fairly easy to pick up most turtles. Use both hands and grab the turtle on either side of the shell. The turtle may not appreciate or understand that it is being rescued from the road and may scratch or pee on you, so be prepared for this. If you have a firm grip on the turtle with both hands you are less likely to drop it if it does scratch you. It’s a good idea to keep a pair of work gloves in the car to protect your hands when moving turtles, and for other roadside adventures.
Always move the turtle in the direction that it is heading. Turtles know where they want to go. Release the turtle on the shoulder of the road and it will quickly shuffle away from you and the road. Take a bow, as you just saved a turtle and are now a turtle hero.
Moving Snapping Turtles, especially large ones, is more challenging. Snapping Turtles can be fast and they will 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 car mat drag. Place a car mat behind the turtle, grab the back of the shell near the back legs and drag the turtle onto the mat. Do not drag the turtle by its tail as this can injure the turtle. Once the turtle is on the mat, drag the mat off the road, keeping one hand on the back of the turtle.
Another technique for moving a Snapping Turtle is the shovel lift. If you have a shovel in the car, approach the turtle from behind and slide the shovel under it. Then lift and move the 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.
To see how to safely pick up a Snapping Turtle by hand, check out our video on how to move a turtle off the road.