Helping turtles on “World Turtle Day”

It’s May 23, and it is World Turtle Day! And in my neighborhood anyway, the turtles are crossing the road!

My wife and I helped our first one of the season on Saturday afternoon. It was an Eastern painted turtle, and like many more of its kind, it was a female who had either just laid her eggs, or was heading to do so.

Fresh water turtles like to lay their eggs in sandy soil, in a sunny location. Sadly for them, the gravel shoulders along the roadside offer perfect conditions.

The down side is that cars are fast, and turtles are slow. One of the biggest dangers to turtles in the entire history of turtles, is crossing the road!


One of the best ways you can help is simply to SLOW DOWN! If you are paying attention, it is pretty easy to miss a turtle crossing the road, because like I said, they aren’t really fast.

Sadly, many people simply wont slow down or pay attention, or even worse, some people will deliberately run turtles over! This was confirmed by a Clemson University student’s study in 2012. Nathan Weaver placed turtle decoys in the middle of the road where simply driving normally would result in a miss every time. Sadly, he saw many drivers intentionally swerve to hit turtles.

If you want to help a turtle out of the road, the first thing to think of is SAFETY! Don’t slam on your brakes in heavy traffic, don’t stop in the middle of the road, and NEVER run out into traffic. (I personally would suggest that you NEVER stop for a turtle on a highway!) Get clear of the travel lane, and turn on your hazard lights, and look for traffic before entering the roadway.

Once you have gotten to the turtle, ALWAYS relocate it in the direction it was traveling! After you are gone, the turtle WILL continue on to where it was heading! Nothing will stop it, as long as it is able to move! So if you found a turtle that spent all day in the hot sun climbing a steep embankment on the side of the road to reach a sand pile across the way, and you place it back down the embankment because that is where the water is, you just did FAR more harm than good! (Also, if the turtle turns to slowly run away from you, you should obviously consider where it was heading BEFORE its wild sprint to escape you)

NEVER assume that because you don’t see any water that the turtle is insane, lost, or migrating to a better neighborhood, and give it a lift to the lake three towns over. Believe it or not, many turtles WILL try to get back to their home…If it took you an hour to get there, imagine how long it would take a turtle to get back!

Now what if it is a snapping turtle? Well…Don’t get in the way of it’s business end! I COULD tell you how to pick it up without getting hurt, or hurting the turtle but if you messed it up, you would be mad at me, and call me bad names! If you are not comfortable picking up a snapping turtle, all you have to do is shoo it along with a big stick…But it is not going to enjoy it. I recommend acting as a crossing guard, and alerting driver’s to the amphibious pedestrians presence…Just be ready to jot down their license plate number, or better yet, snap a cell phone picture/video in the event they are one of the folks who enjoy running down turtles.

Good luck, and BE SAFE!

Doug Alley

About Doug Alley

I grew up in Bath, Maine in an upper lower class family with 3 step sisters, a step brother, and a little sister. After high school I spent 3 years serving in the USAF at Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage AK. I've competed in, and won, demolition derbies. I've competed in, and never won, stock car races. I am the 47-year-old father of an 11-year-old boy who is pretty sure he is smarter than I ever was. We live on a little less than an acre of land in a 1973 mobile home in Stetson with my wife Jen, some cats, a few chickens, and rabbits, and a couple of goats. I hunt, fish, camp out, dabble in photography, gardening, and I cook in variable degrees of near success.