MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Transportation officials are telling drivers in Minnesota to keep an eye out for turtles as the little reptiles cross roadways to get to their winter homes.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says it’s important to help turtles make their seasonal journeys safely as the high roadway mortality rate of the shelled creatures is thought to be a major factor in turtle population decline in the United States.
To help turtles cross the road – particularly females, which are vital to species populations – drivers can pull over and put on their hazard lights. Allowing the turtles to cross unaided is the preferred option, when traffic allows.
If the turtles need a human hand in crossing a busy road, they shouldn’t be handled for very long. DNR officials say prolonged human handling can disorient the creatures and disrupt normal turtle behavior.
It’s also important that turtles are placed down in the direction they were traveling, in as straight a line as possible. Just putting a turtle by a body of water may not help the turtle reach its winter home.
If one happens to encounter an injured turtle, the wounded animal is to be taken to the nearest wildlife rehabilitation center.
Those concerned about Minnesota wildlife can also be a big help in documenting turtle crossing areas, wildlife officials say.
The Minnesota Herpetological Society, in a partnership with the Department of Transportation and the DNR, has an app that allows users to photograph and report turtle crossing areas.
This information is useful to transportation officials as it can highlight which areas could use simple improvements to keep turtles and other wildlife safe. Such improvements include wildlife-friendly curbs, fences, modified culverts, and dedicated wildlife underpasses.
The data can also be used to develop migration strategies for wildlife officials.
Turtles, which have been on the planet since well before the dinosaurs, are having trouble adapting to the pace of the modern world. The DNR say the “hide in my shell and wait it out” strategy isn’t too useful in a world full of fast-moving cars and trucks.