Why did the turtle cross the road?
As it turns out, turtles go where they do because of internal urges that drive them. In early summer, their senses encourage them to seek out nesting sites to lay their eggs. Because turtles are reptiles, and therefore cold-blooded, they must wait until warm temperatures allow them the mobility they need to nest. Female turtles are particular about where they lay and bury their eggs, and may travel long distances over land to find a suitable location. Most turtles select well drained, sandy or loose soil to deposit their eggs, and some sources indicate the site usually faces south or southeast—which takes them certain directions—which sometimes involves roads.
A turtle trying to cross the road may not be headed in the wrong direction, writes syndicated columnist Jill Pertler: "Most likely, instinct is telling her exactly where to go. And the next time we see her plodding along, we’ve decided to do just one thing: help her get to the other side."
I admit it: I help turtles get off roads, as long as there is a safe spot at which to stop and park. I want them to get to the other side! Afterall, turtles were here before us, and before roads and transportation. Highway mortality is a significant factor in declining turtle populations in Missouri. I assisted my first turtle of this year last week, which was attempting to cross the busy intersection of Missouri Route 109 and Manchester Road in Wildwood. Of all intersections! I didn't believe there was any way a turtle would make it through that interchange. For that, I got a really mean look from a male driver, who shook his head and tried to stare me down. We weren't in his particular way; I guess he doesn't believe in karma.
I assisted a second turtle this week off of Fox Creek Road onto Fox View Lane in Wildwood. A postal service van driver was straddling over the top of it; I didn't know if turtles also have nine lives, so I moved it to give it a better chance of survival (its photo accompanies this article).
One dilemma is: To where does one move a relocated turtle? Our families have always heard to simply head turtles in the direction they were orginally heading. Have you followed a different directive?
The following tips are provided by the Turtle Rescue League, an organization based in Massachusetts:
- When picking up a small turtle, grasp it on either side of its shell behind the front legs. The turtle will still be able to kick at you, but many will choose to stay safely tucked in, during the short time you are moving them.
- Keep the turtle low to the ground when moving them. Even small turtles have surprising strength. If a turtle pushes free of your grip, you do not want it to fall and injure itself.
- If the turtle is large (with a long tail), it may be a snapping turtle, they can be a bit aggressive and you might not want to attempt picking it up, but you can still help it across the road. If you are helping a large snapper, simply push it from behind with a blunt object, don't use anything sharp or pokey, you don't want to hurt the turtle. Although snappers can seem dangerous, they are just protecting the babies they are carrying, like any wild animal, you need to exercise caution.
- Never, ever pick up any turtle by the tail; it can injure them very badly.
- Make sure to put the turtle in the direction it was heading, NEVER TURN THEM AROUND! The turtle is on a mission, and if you turn it around, it will simply go back across the road when you drive away. Once you have the turtle across the road, you can sit and watch to make sure it is heading off and not turning back around.
- Although you may be tempted to relocate a turtle, don't. Many turtles have "Home Ranges," a territory they call home, and when relocated, they will search out ways back. Besides risking many additional road crossings, some turtles, if they cannot find their way back will stop eating and just wander listlessly.
Missouri has 17 kinds of turtles; all but three are federally protected, according to Missouri Department of Conservation sources. For a thorough, online MDC identification guide of Missouri's turtles, CLICK HERE. Turtles and tortoises represent the oldest living group of reptiles on Earth—so why wouldn't they deserve a little TLC (tender loving care)?