MANCHESTER, NH – Maybe this has happened to you. You’re driving down the road when you see something ahead. It’s barely moving. As you approach, you realize it’s a turtle. The armored reptile is facing certain doom as it lumbers across the asphalt.
All those gentle turtle cartoon memories of your childhood flash before your eyes.
You know what you have to do. You pull over, get out of your car, and run like a superhero toward the thing, before you have time to think it through.
According to the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, you are, at that moment, a turtle superhero – with the power to save a turtle life. In fact, the biggest threat to our state’s turtle population is being struck by automobiles on roadways.
Because turtle nesting season lasts from late May to early July here, reaching maximum intensity in early June, it’s likely you will see a turtle on her quest for an appropriate nesting site. It’s the annual call of the wild, which brings her out of the safety of ponds and wetlands this time of year.
In the spring, male turtles are looking for females and territory to call their own, while females are looking for places to nest. During the late summer and fall, hatchling turtles are digging up from nests, looking for water and later on males and females are heading to places to hibernate. Sometimes they are migrating to a more suitable spot to live.
According to the New England Turtle Rescue League, there are a few dos and don’ts:
- When picking up a small turtle, grasp it on either side of its shell behind the front legs. The turtle will still be able to kick at you, but many will choose to stay safely tucked in, during the short time you are moving them.
- Keep the turtle low to the ground when moving them. Even small turtles have surprising strength. If a turtle pushes free of your grip, you do not want it to fall and injure itself.
- If the turtle is large (with a long tail), it may be a snapping turtle, they can be a bit aggressive and you might not want to attempt picking it up, but you can still help it across the road.
- If you are helping a large snapper, simply push it from behind with a blunt object, don’t use anything sharp or pokey, you don’t want to hurt the turtle. Although snappers can seem dangerous, they are just protecting the babies they are carrying, like any wild animal, you need to exercise caution.
- Make sure to put the turtle in the direction it was heading, NEVER TURN THEM AROUND! The turtle is on a mission, and if you turn it around, it will simply go back across the road when you drive away.
- Once you have the turtle across the road, you can sit and watch to make sure it is heading off and not turning back around.
- Although you may be tempted to relocate a turtle, don’t. Many turtles have “home ranges,” a territory they call home, and when relocated, they will search out ways back. Besides risking many additional road crossings, some turtles, if they cannot find their way back will stop eating and just wander listlessly.
NH Fish and Game Department also has some words of wisdom:
- Slow down and watch for turtles in roadways!
- Help turtles cross roads safely. If you see a turtle crossing a road and it is safe for you to do so, help it cross in the direction it was traveling. Be sure if it’s dark to put on your hazard lights and pull fully off the road. Make sure other drivers see you, before stepping onto a road.
- Don’t take the turtle home or move it far from where you found it. A turtle taken to your home is a turtle lost from the local population.
- If a turtle is injured, check the list of Wildlife Rehabilitators, or call Fish and Game’s Wildlife Division at (603) 271-2461 for a list of rehabilitators in your area. Find out more on what to do if you find an injured turtle.
- Report turtle sightings to New Hampshire Fish and Game’s Reptile and Amphibian Reporting Program.
- Work with land trusts and town officials to help conserve important natural areas in your community.
By taking these steps, we can all help to ensure that New Hampshire’s turtles stay abundant and healthy.