Jeff Green | Jun 22, 2006
Back toHomeNature Reflections - June 22, 2006
by Jean Griffin
You may see a sign in a few places along the highway that has an outline of a turtle - or it may say "Turtle Crossing". What does this mean? It is an indication that this is an area where there may be turtles crossing the road. What does it mean for you? It is a request that you be more alert as to what is on the road, and be ready to avoid any of these ancient creatures.
Why does a turtle cross the road? The quick reply is "to get to the other side". But why does it go to the other side? Most of the turtles that cross highways or roads are females, looking for a good place to lay eggs, and what can be better than the side of a road, where it is sandy, where the heat of the sun is absorbed by the pavement or stones, and where there is a possibility that the eggs will hatch. Or they may move beyond the road into a yard or driveway, where a homeowner may be unhappy with the resultant digging, though the turtle will cover her eggs before she leaves.
Turtles, which have changed very little over thousands of years, are now in danger because of changes humankind has made to the environment. Those hard shells which have protected them so effectively against natural predators are no protection from a fast-moving vehicle that does not avoid them. Sometimes the creature is not killed, but only injured, perhaps having a broken carapace. It is a pitiful thing to see an injured one trying painfully to drag itself along. There are some people who will try to rehabilitate them, but it is a difficult process.
Our most common turtle, the Painted Turtle, is often seen on warm days in the spring, basking in the sun on a rock or a log in a pond. Wise enough to slip into the water when danger threatens, the females must leave the protection of the water to find that perfect nesting site. She will be five years old before she undertakes this dangerous journey. If you find her on a road or highway, stop (in such a way that you do not endanger yourself or another traveler) and move her to the side, remembering to move her in the direction in which she was traveling - otherwise she just might start back across!
A rarer turtle is the Blanding’s Turtle, usually larger than the Painted Turtle with a higher-domed shell. Its bright yellow chin and throat are good for identification. They are mild-mannered and docile. Often when you pick one up there will be a hiss as it draws in its head into the protection of the shell, while at the same time there may be a small gush of water, and you may find that leeches which have been living on the turtle will appear.
Probably the most visible and most common turtle on the road will be the larger, ill-tempered Snapping Turtle. I am told it is possible to pick them up if you grasp them by the hind portion of the shell or the hind legs - I have never tried it! Do not pick them up by the tail, as this could injure the vertebrae.
Whichever kind of turtle you see on the road, think of the prospects for the eggs - most nests will be dug up by hungry raccoons or skunks looking for a good meal. For those eggs that do hatch, the young will also have to make dangerous journeys to find water before they are discovered by predators or die under fast-moving cars. So give these creatures some assistance - avoid hitting them with your car, or stop and help them across the road and out of danger - and give yourself a good feeling by doing so!