Turtles on the Road: How to Help

Eastern Box Turtle found crossing a quiet back road.

The months of May and June usually spring most of our wildlife into action. With cooler temperatures quickly fading, resources become plentiful, as do the critters that utilize them. Sunlight and warmth are among the resources that cold-blooded animals, such as turtles, rely on the most. For turtles specifically, late spring and early summer kick off their nesting season.

Most of our turtle species (excluding the Eastern Box Turtle) are aquatic or semi-aquatic, spending a good portion of their time, if not all of it, in the water. The exceptions are typically females who have to venture onto land in order to find a suitable nesting site that won’t be subject to flooding, extreme temperatures, etc. Inevitably, this leads many turtles onto roads that are situated between their aquatic and nesting habitats. Unfortunately, many turtles succumb to road mortalities each year, and what’s lost in many cases is not only the parent turtle who has miraculously made it to adulthood, but the eggs they’re carrying as well.

Luckily, in some scenarios, we can offer assistance. If you stumble upon a turtle trying to get across a road, here’s how to proceed:

Step 1

Determine whether there is a safe place for you to pull off and park. Never put yourself or other drivers in unnecessary danger.

Step 2

If there’s a place to pull off, do so and turn on your hazard lights.

Step 3

Safely approach the turtle (looking both ways of course) and take note of which direction they’re heading.

Step 4

Gently pick the turtle up with two hands and take it across the road in the direction that it was heading, even if where it was heading looks like a poor habitat; reason being, relocating or redirecting turtles is often more dangerous for them. Turtles follow specific routes within their home range, and females can be married to general nesting locations. If a turtle is relocated or redirected, they’ll end up spending the rest of the year trying to find the path that they’re familiar with, often resulting in them crossing more roads than they normally would have.

Step 5

If time permits (and at a safe location), take a photo of the species and report the finding to the agency that protects reptiles in your state. For Pennsylvania, that’s the PA Fish and Boat Commission.

Step 6

Rejoice! You helped a turtle (and likely a clutch of developing eggs) through a critical portion of their journey.

The Conclusion

It’s that simple. A few things worth noting though: if it’s a Snapping Turtle or a Softshell Turtle, be sure to keep your hands away from the top half of their shells. Both species have long necks and powerful bites. Also be sure to wash your hands at your earliest convenience – turtles can harbor bacteria and they tend to live in generally unsavory environments.

Your safety is always paramount, so be sure to assess the situation and move forward responsibly. Thank you for reading, and I wish you many safe and exciting turtle encounters this year.

Sebastian Harris, Conservation Easement Steward.