How to help a turtle cross the road

Our farm is in a very marshy area. On the roads around the farm, I often encounter turtles on the move from one marsh to another–usually on the opposite side of the road.

A turtle covered in moss

Fortunately, most drivers seem to be pretty conscientious about doing what they can to protect turtles (I saw one car yesterday with an “I brake for turtles” bumper sticker). So it’s not unusual to see cars pulled over or stopped a safe distance from a crossing turtle.

Most times though people don’t seem to know what to do with the turtles. They’re obviously not the fastest creatures in the world, so it’s usually necessary to help the turtles on their way.

Here’s my technique to move a turtle along.

First the basics: safely pull over your car making sure to get as far out of traffic as possible. If you have to enter the road, look both ways and make sure you’re going to be safe.

Now the more complicated step: picking up the turtle.

Most of the turtles I encounter are large snapping turtles. I have a childhood paranoia from swimming at my grandparents’ cottage about being bitten by a snapping turtle–not that I’ve ever been bitten. It’s just a childhood hangup.

However, I’ve learned it’s very easy to pick up a turtle without endangering yourself or the turtle.

My technique is to grab the turtle with both hands on the rear half of the shell. Get a firm grip. If the turtle’s on the small side, you might be able to grab it with one hand, but it’s safer to use two hands. The turtle might squirm a little bit or might be heavier than you expect.

Now lift. Her head will maybe turn around, but she won’t be able to reach you if you’re on the back half of her shell.

Make sure to hold the turtle away from you. It will likely be slimy and wet. And the last time I moved a turtle, I swear it tried to pee on me.

Now carry the turtle across the road and gently set it as far from the edge of the road as possible.

Wipe your hands (the grass will probably work if you don’t happen to have tissues in the car) and go on your way.

Have you ever helped a turtle cross the road? What’s your technique? What animals do you encounter around your home?

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8 thoughts on “How to help a turtle cross the road

  1. We only have turtles in one place here – on a log in the middle of the pond in Beacon Hill Park. So no need to help them across the road! It’s good to hear people make an effort to protect the turtles.
    The thing we most often see here are deer on the roads. The other day we had to stop and honk, clap, shout etc to try and get the little deer to make up its mind and go one way or the other. It would start across one way, get spooked and freeze, then start back, get spooked and freeze.
    Oh! Here’s an awesome story for you. Two weekends ago we went camping with our friends. On the way home, traffic on the highway into the city was blocked. When we finally inched up close enough, we could see it was a mama duck and eight ducklings, who were trapped on the road between the concrete road dividers. There was a police car parked on the side, and the officer was walking along the road, herding them along one side so traffic could use the other lane slowly. Up ahead the divider ended, so we knew they would get off the road and down to the water once they made it that far. Sooooo cute!! It was a happy story. 😀

  2. If it’s a big turtle, drag it onto the floor mat from your car (or whatever you happen to have handy) and drag it across the road. Best to put it on the mat backwards so it can’t reach your hands. I picked up a small turtle once and carried it the rest of the way across the road. It peed on my shoe in return.

  3. My wife shared this with me because she knows how brave I am with turtles. A few years ago in a pouring rain storm, I noticed a large turtle, about a foot or more in diameter, appearing to exit a crowded restaurant parking lot to cross an busy 4 lane street. Trying to be the good Samaritan, I parked the car, got out in the rain and as you suggest, approached the turtle from the rear. Everything was fine until I got to close. He quickly flipped his big head back around the front of his shell and hissed so loud I almost jumped out of my skin. I told the turtle to get a job on the other side and there wouldn’t be a need to cross a street to get home. Lost all my nerve and got back in the car glad to be out of the rain. Now I limit my involvement with turtles to ones smaller than my hand!

  4. Most often I see box turtles crossing the road around here. I usually make sure to straddle my car over them and say a little prayer that the next car does the same.

    We have had two snappers on our property, one about 4″ in diameter, he was returned to the ditch, and one about 18″ in diameter. She was trying to invade our garden and possibly lay eggs.

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