How to Safely Help Turtles Off the Road

At Swank Early Skills Development, we love turtles (please see ‘About the Turtle’). Turtles often need to cross roads to get to water sources and to lay their eggs in specific areas.  This can often be dangerous for them, but we can help. Did you know there is a special way to safely help turtles off the road?

1. Safety Comes First

Stopping to help turtles off the road is a good thing, but it can become dangerous for you and others if you do not take precautions. If you are driving, put on your hazard lights before you slow down and pull over. This gives other drivers a warning and can help prevent a traffic accident as you stop.

Once you exit your vehicle, stay aware of your surroundings and pay attention to traffic. Road crossings are dangerous for turtles and they are dangerous for us as well. You need to make sure other drivers can see you and are stopping before you enter the roadway.

2. Know How to Handle Turtles

First and foremost, never pick up a turtle by its tail! A turtle’s spine extends through its tail. If you pick up a turtle by its tail, you can dislocate joints, cause other damage, and seriously injure it.

Non-Snapping Turtles

When you go to pick up a turtle, as long as it is not a snapping turtle, you want to approach it from behind and reach for the mid-point of the body. Use two hands and gently grasp the edge of each side of its shell. Lift the turtle from the ground and hold it away from your body either with its head up or parallel to the ground.

Snapping Turtle

Snapping turtles can have a long reach and may react defensively. If your hands are at the mid-point of their bodies, you may be within their biting range.

If the turtle is a snapper, you want to approach it from behind, grasp it at the rear edges of its shell with two hands, and pick it up with its head down, away from your body.

Or you can use your grip to spin around with it and pull it backward in the direction it needs to go. Once you get it across the road, then you can spin it back in the direction it needs to go, release it, and back away quickly.

The key is to stay opposite of snapping direction and out of snapping reach. If the turtle is too large to pick up or you’re not comfortable picking it up, there are some other options you can use to help turtles get across the road including a car mat, shovel, bedsheet, and more.

Turtles Might Pee When You Pick Them Up

Try to stay calm and avoid sudden movements if the turtle pees. Some turtles will empty their bladders once they are lifted off of the ground. It’s important to be aware of this so you do not drop them in shock or surprise.

Avoid Excessive Handling

Although you may be tempted to check out details of the turtle you’re helping, try to wait until you have put it back down on the ground to do so. It’s essential to avoid excessive handling of wild turtles. Handling them too much can disrupt their normal behavior

3. Maintain the Direction of Travel

Take Them to Where They Are Trying to Go

When you stop to help a turtle in the road or one that is sitting by the road, it may be tempting to just put them back where they came from. But, this is usually a mistake. If a turtle is attempting to cross the road and you put them back where they started, they will just attempt to cross the road again to try to get to where they were going.

Instead, take them across the road in the direction they were headed. If you can, take them to the closest water source on that side of the road. Generally, just getting them to the side they were trying to reach and placing them a bit away from the road is good enough to safely help them.

If They Are Walking Parallel to the Road Find the Nearest Water Source

If a turtle is walking parallel to the road and not across it, the best approach is to take a look at the direction they are headed and figure out the water source. This is likely their destination and you can help them get away from the road and in the direction of that water.

If you can’t take them all the way to the water source, placing them several feet away from the road and directed towards the water source is usually enough to help them get there safely.

These are just a few tips on how to safely help turtles off the road. With these things in mind, you’ll know exactly what to do the next time you see a turtle in or along the road!