Watch out for turtles in the road!

We were driving down Rt7 in East Newport heading for the highway onramp when I noticed a couple of dark objects on the shoulder.

I hit the brakes and made a turn to go back…Sure enough. Two snapping turtles were trying to cross the road.

As I pulled the van over onto the shoulder and parked between the turtles, my wife said she would take the one to the rear, and I should get the one in the front.

My turtle seemed to be cooperative until I made a move to grab her shell near her back legs. That was when she advised me that she would have no part of it with a loud hiss.

There are many articles on rescuing roadside turtles that tell you the back of the shell is the best place to pick up a turtle. They say a turtle can’t bite you from that position.

Nobody told that to the turtles! I HAVE been able to safely pick up a snapping turtle using that method before, but I have also been spared a bite simply because I had a long sleeved shirt on too.

My tried and true method is to grab their tail as close to the body as possible. It is said this can fracture the tail, and that IS a good possibility…But what is better? A fractured tail…Or squished in the road?

I got my turtle safely to the other side of the road and turned to check the progress of my wife, just in time to see her fingers very near the business end of the turtle she was trying to rescue. I could hear the snap as the turtle’s jaws closed on air where my wife’s fingers had been moments before.

This was a very fast, and agile turtle, and apparently didn’t know it was being rescued.

It did what many turtles will do, and turned back around and headed for the grass in the direction it had just come from. It’s at a point like this, that many well-intentioned turtle rescuers will feel like the job is done. The turtle is out of the road. Problem solved.

In fact, many folks will simply nudge, or spook a turtle back in the opposite direction it was traveling. I promise if you have done this you didn’t do the turtle any favors. All you have done is delay the inevitable.

That turtle was on a mission. It was heading to lay eggs in a sandy spot, or it was returning to the water it calls home after laying eggs. No matter how well intentioned your rescue attempt was, once you are gone, the turtle will resume its original course and will be back in the road.

ALWAYS move a turtle in the direction it was traveling BEFORE you made it nervous.

And NEVER decide you know a better location for a turtle to spend its life, safely in the swamp behind your house, hundred of yards from busy roads.

Many turtles WILL try to return home, even if it is miles away.

I managed to grab the turtle by the tail, and get her across the road. She snapped at me several times, trying to get my leg. She wasn’t aware she was being helped!

My family rescues turtles from the road every spring. It is becoming a bit of a tradition. One I hope others will adopt!

If you see a turtle on the side of the road, slow down at the very least.

If it is safe, pull over and do what you can to help. If you are not comfortable moving the turtle, simply stick around to make other drivers aware that there are turtles crossing, and hope they slow down.

I DO NOT recommend EVER trying to rescue a turtle on a highway! A human life is not worth a million turtles!

Turtles have been around since the time of the dinosaurs, and have survived many conditions that have caused many animals to go extinct, but cars are threatening many species of turtles. Keep your eyes open, and slow down! Give turtles a “brake”!

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.