Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Caution: Turtles Crossing

The weather has been so good that a mother snapping turtle came out and laid dozens of eggs in the parking lot of the McDonald’s on West Housatonic Street in Pittsfield. (Randy Stracuzzi / Special to The Eagle)

Caution: Turtles crossing
Mating season is slow and steady, snarling local traffic
By Scott Stafford, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Tuesday June 1, 2010

Listen up, Berkshire County drivers: Slow down and keep your eyes on the road -- it's turtle time again.

Mating season for local turtles is upon us, so the females are headed for their ancestral nesting grounds to lay eggs, as they do around this time every year.

Unfortunately, that means many of them will be crossing Berkshire roadways.

They tend to not look both ways. They don't cross at the lights. And they take their sweet time.

By now, many of them have met a fateful end under the tires of vehicles. But many have been lucky enough to cross in front of caring drivers who actually stop and direct traffic around them, or help them to the other side of the road safely.

"I just wish people would take more care, slow down and watch out for the turtles," said Pamela Berkeley, a Sheffield resident. "Some of these turtles could be 100 years old or more."

Thom Smith, a retired Berkshire Museum natural science curator and Berkshire Eagle columnist, said that he has received about a dozen e-mails in the last week from people expressing concern about turtles crossing the road.

"June is the peak time for this," Smith said. "They're looking to find sandy soil to lay their eggs."

The road-crossing turtles around here are mostly snapping turtles or painted turtles.

The snapping turtles are more dangerous and can grow to about the size of a car tire. But either species will snap at any perceived threat.

Smith said the local population of the two species are not in decline despite their asphalt adventures.

The best course of action when someone sees a turtle strolling through traffic is to stop the car, put on the emergency blinkers, and pick up the turtle by the back of its shell and take it to the side of the road it was headed toward, Smith said.

He cautioned against picking up a turtle by the tail as it tends to make the turtle a bit cranky and it leaves the carrier vulnerable to the dreaded turtle bite.

For the heavier turtles, a stick can be used to push the turtle along by the shell. Caution is advised either way.

"They can get aggressive when they are out of the water seeking a place to lay eggs," Smith said.

Last week, workers and customers at McDonald's on West Housatonic Street shared a turtle adventure.

A big snapping turtle made an early morning cruise across the drive-through lane. Employees came out of the store and directed traffic around the slow-moving female while she made her way around the restaurant and under the shrubbery next to the parking lot.

Employees and onlookers blocked off the parking spaces adjacent to the turtle to give her a safety zone while she dug into the dirt and laid her eggs. Two hours later she was gone.

"A lot of cars come driving through here, so we wanted to protect her," said McDonald's employee Michelle McKeon. "I would never want a poor defenseless turtle to die for no reason. It's just not fair."

For more information: sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or (413) 496-6241.

Source: http://www.berkshireeagle.com/local/ci_15200457

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