Two eastern box turtles cross Croom Airport Road in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. From spring through fall, you can often see turtles like these crossing the road to find a mate, build a nest or track down food or water. But each year, many of these slow-moving reptiles are injured or killed after being struck by vehicles. With their rudimentary ears, turtles have a hard time hearing oncoming cars and can’t move quickly enough to get out of the way. In fact, although both male and female turtles can be found crossing roadways, research has shown that many aquatic turtle populations in the United States have unusually high proportions of males, in part because so many females are hit by vehicles while trying to find good nesting territory.
What can you do to help? If you happen upon a turtle as it makes its way across the road, follow these guidelines to safely help it on its journey:
- First, make sure to keep yourself, others and the turtle safe by being aware of other drivers and your surroundings.
- Second, limit your contact with the critter. If there’s no oncoming traffic, observe the turtle at a safe distance while allowing it to continue across the road on its own. If you must pick a turtle up, be gentle and avoid handling it too much. Using both hands, lightly grasp the shell near its middle, and keep the critter close to the ground in case it falls. And remember, never pick a turtle up by its tail.
- Finally, always keep the turtle moving in the same direction it was already heading—don’t turn it around. Move it quickly across the roadway in as direct a line as possible. If you shift the turtle in a different direction, it will simply attempt to cross the road again once you’ve left. After you’ve helped the critter on its journey, you can watch from a safe distance to make sure it continues on its way and doesn’t climb back into the road.