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How to help a turtle cross the road

May 31, 2018

A snapping turtle.
Credit Gary Stolz / USFWS

This time of year, it’s good to keep an eye out for turtles that might be slowly crossing the road.

Lori Sargent is a wildlife biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

“They’re on the move because they’re looking for good nesting spots and some species move more than others,” she says.

She says Blanding’s turtles and snapping turtles are the ones you’ll see on the road most often. Sargent says Blanding’s turtles are on the decline in Michigan, mainly because so many get hit by cars.

“If it’s safe – you don’t want to get out on the road that’s a real busy road and endanger yourself – pull over to the side of the road and put the turtle to the side of the road that they’re facing because that’s where they want to go,” says Sargent.

She says it's important to carry the turtle over to the side of the road where they're going because otherwise, they'll just keep trying to cross the road.

Sargent says you can pick up a turtle by the edges of its shell, and support it underneath.

But be careful - snapping turtles can bite. Here are some tips on moving snapping turtles from Tufts University Wildlife Clinic:

  • Snapping turtles have powerful jaws and long necks. They can extend their necks rapidly.
  • Do not place your hands near the front half of the turtle.
  • Do not pick the turtle up by the tail, as you can injure the bones of the tail and back.
  • If you have an appropriately sized box or container, try to gently push the turtle into the box from behind. If you have an object such as a broom or a shovel, you can carefully use this to nudge the turtle into the box.
  • If you are moving the turtle across the road gently tip the turtle out of the box on the other side of the road.
  • If you do not have or cannot get the turtle into a box, you can pick the turtle up by the top shell by placing your hands above each BACK leg. The claws on the feet are very sharp, however, and can cause deep scratches on your hands and arms. Use gloves if you have them. If you don’t have gloves, a towel, a sweatshirt, or a jacket can be placed over the back end of the turtle before you pick it and will protect your hands from the claws.
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