The Republican file photo / Don Treeger
A snapping turtle takes its time crossing Route 19 in Brimfield.
Cars vs. turtles results in mounting losses for the reptiles
by Stan Freeman
Alas, a turtle’s shell is no match for a 2-ton automobile, and this time of year the carnage on roadways across New England involving these reptiles can ravage their population.
Turtles, even those that live the rest of the year in water, travel the landscape in late spring and early summer looking for sites to lay eggs. And, that often means crossing roads - at a turtle’s pace.
“Probably there is no other wildlife species that is as vulnerable to road kill as turtles,” said Scott D. Jackson, a wildlife biologist at University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
“Not just individuals but populations are highly vulnerable because turtles tend to live a long time and need a long reproductive life to counter the high mortality (of their young),” Jackson said. “So to lose turtles prematurely, especially females, can be devastating to them.”
Massachusetts has 10 native turtle species that live on land or in fresh water, and five are listed under the state’s Endangered Species Act. There are also several sea turtles that visit the Bay State’s coast.
Turtles can live long lives, with some box turtles reaching 100. But, owing to predation of their young in the nest or in their first year, few young turtles reach adulthood.
Most of the state’s native turtles are less than 10 inches long. The glaring exception is the snapping turtle, which can reach 18 inches in length and weigh more than 40 pounds.
When one encounters a small turtle in the road, it should be lifted to the side of the road to which it was heading, said Marjorie W. Rines, a naturalist with the Massachusetts Audubon Society.
“People see a turtle going from a wet area to a dry area and think it’s making a mistake, so they move it back to the wet area,” she said. “But, they’re just making life harder for the poor turtle who now has to turn around and go back” to resume its search for a suitable nesting site on dry land.
Another mistake people make is to take the turtle out of the road and move it to the nearest pond, which may be quite a distance away. This, too, is a mistake, and the turtle may now be far from its familiar territory.
When a snapping turtle is encountered in a roadway, do not attempt to move it unless absolutely necessary, naturalists say.
Snapping turtles can move quicker than people think, they can extend their necks and reach farther with their heads than people think, and they can crush and even sever a finger when they bite.
“Try to direct traffic around it because they can be dangerous to handle. But be careful. You don’t want to put yourself at risk and you don’t want to put other drivers at risk,” Jackson said.
On its website, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife offers this advice if a snapping turtle must be moved.
“Use a broom and plastic tub (or box) to capture them, by sweeping them into the tub. An alternative method is to pick them up by grabbing the tail and then sliding one hand underneath the turtle to support the body. Lift it like a platter, steering with the tail. A snapping turtle can reach your hands if you lift it by the sides of its shell ... Do not lift them only by the tail; that can injure their spine.”
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