Keep an Eye Out for Turtles

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Painted Turtles basking on a log. / Jim Andrews

Painted Turtles basking on a log. / Jim Andrews

It’s springtime and Vermont’s turtles on are on the move.  The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department is asking for the public’s help in keeping them safe. Female turtles are looking for places to deposit their eggs, sometimes choosing to lay along the shoulders of roads, which can end tragically.

“Turtles often cross roads as they search for a nest site,” said Steve Parren, biologist for the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.  “They are a slow-moving animal in today’s fast-paced world, so they have a tough time making it safely across the road. Turtles grow slowly and live a long time, so losing a mature breeding female is a huge loss to the turtle population.”

Turtle nesting activity peaks from late May through June. At this time of year, drivers are urged to keep an eye out for turtles in the road, especially when driving near ponds and wetlands.

To decrease the number of turtles that are killed by vehicles, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department has been collecting data to identify stretches of road that are hotspots for wildlife migrations. They are working closely with VTrans, and with Jim Andrews from the Vermont Reptile & Amphibian Atlas, among other partners.

“When you spot a turtle in the road, you may be able to help it across. First be sure you’re in a safe spot to stop and get out of your car, as human safety comes first,” said Andrews. “If you’re going to move a turtle off the road, always move it in the direction it was traveling.  They know where they’re going.”

According to Andrews, most turtles can simply be picked up and carried across the road.  However, if the turtle has no colorful lines, spots, or other markings, it is probably a snapping turtle, so people should not get too close to the animal to avoid being bitten. Snapping turtle’s necks are as long as their shell. Instead, people should push the turtle across the road with an object like a shovel or broom.

Andrews is also asking paddlers, boaters, and anglers to report turtle sightings throughout the state to the Vermont Reptile & Amphibian Atlas. The reports help conservationists keep track of the status of these species in order to act if a species appears to be in decline.  You can easily add turtle, and all your observations of biodiversity in Vermont, to iNaturalist Vermont, a project of the Vermont Atlas of Life. All of the reptile and amphibian observations are shared with Andrews’ atlas too.

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