The dos and don'ts of helping turtles cross the road
Turtle nesting season is in full-swing from mid-May to August, which means there are more turtles crossing roads and highways.
Christine Stecker with the Alamance County Cooperative Extension says the first thing to do if you see a turtle in the road is to identify what kind of turtle it is. Snapping turtles, which have noticeably larger heads and longer tails than other species, should be left alone.
“If it’s a snapping turtle, wish it well. Snapping turtles are tricky because they can reach their heads back two-thirds the length of their bodies, so you’re not going to be grabbing them by the shell. If you grab them by the tail you can hurt them, and they can probably still reach you if you’re not careful, and they have a pretty powerful bite,” Stecker said.
If it’s one of North Carolina’s other 15 species of inland terrestrial, semiaquatic or aquatic turtles, here are some helpful tips:
Your safety is the first priority. If the turtle is in an area where it is not safe to pull over and help it, let it be. If it’s a safe area, pull the car completely over to the side of the road. If it’s late at night, make sure your hazard lights are on and you use a flashlight so you can still be seen clearly as you cross the road with the turtle.
Grasp the turtle on either side of its shell behind the front legs. The turtle will still be able to kick, but many will stay huddled in their shells as you move them. Keep the turtle low to the ground during transport in case it slips from your hand.
Move the turtle the same direction it was going, and don’t relocate it. If the turtle is female, it’s probably looking for a nesting site. If it’s male, it might be switching ponds. Either way, it has a set destination, and it’s taking the shortest route (which is sometimes not the safest) to get there.
Reporter Jessica Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 336-506-3046. Follow her on Twitter at @jessicawtn.