‘They know where they’re going’: watch out for turtles on the roads

A snapping turtle in gravel and dirt next to grass.
Turtles are on the move and can be found on roads. The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department encourages motorists to watch for them and, if it is safe, help them cross the road. Photo courtesy of Dale Cockrell via the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department

The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department is urging motorists to keep an eye out for turtles crossing the road during their peak season, which begins now and will continue until about mid-June. Drivers should be especially alert on roads near ponds, rivers and wetlands, according to a Monday news release from the department.

“Turtles tend to be slow moving, so they have difficulty crossing roads safely,” Luke Groff, a biologist with the department, said in the news release.

In addition to being vigilant while driving, department officials recommend helping encountered turtles cross the street – but only if it is safe to do so.

“If you can safely move it, please do so, but also respect that it is a wild turtle and that it belongs there,” Groff said in an interview with VTDigger. “So we don’t collect turtles. We don’t take them home.”

He also emphasized that it is important to ensure that the turtles remain as they look. “We’re not moving them to what we think is a better place. We bring them to the other side and trust that they know best.”

“They know where they are going,” he noted in the press release.

When helping a snapping turtle, the department recommends that motorists use a shovel, piece of cardboard or a car floor mat to move them, and use caution in distinguishing snappers from other species. “If the turtle is large or does not have colorful lines, spots or other markings, it may be a snapper,” the news release said.

In addition to crossing roads, tortoises are known to convert roadsides, driveways and gardens into nesting sites at this time of year.

“If there is no immediate danger to that nest, I generally recommend people leave it in place. You know, even if that’s at the edge of your driveway, if you can just mark it and leave the nest there, that’s always going to be best for the turtle,” Groff said.

However, if a nest is in a particularly vulnerable location, Groff encouraged people to contact the Department of Fish & Wildlife to help relocate it.

Groff also recommended helping the turtle hatchlings cross the street if they are in danger of being hit.

“If there’s a busy road between that nest and the water, then the turtle will have instincts to go to the water,” Groff said. “If there’s any way in between, you know, those guys aren’t going to do well. So I always recommend if people can do it, and can do it safely… to definitely give that little guy a head start and take a walk down the road.”

Accidents involving turtles can have serious consequences for their populations if their numbers are already low. “Many turtles killed on roadways are adult, breeding females, so not only is the female removed from the population, but so are her future offspring,” Groff said in the news release.

“Tortoises grow slowly and females of some species cannot reproduce until they are 10 or even 15 years old,” he added.