Watch out for turtles: They're crossing the road to get to their winter homes

Why did the turtle cross the road? Because it's time for winter migration.
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Why did the turtle cross the road?

Because it's time for winter migration, the Minnesota Department of Transportation says. The agency is asking motorists to watch out for wildlife.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says roadway mortality is believed to be a major factor in turtle population declines in the United States.

The DNR says turtles pre-date dinosaurs by several million years, but their strategy of hiding in their shell and waiting it out "has proven of little use in surviving the peril posed by fast-moving trucks and cars."

Female turtles often cross highways to nest, typically between May and July. And then baby turtles have to make the journey in the fall in order to get to water, the Minnesota Herpetological Society says. Young turtles have about a 1 percent chance of surviving to breeding age, the society notes.

Officials don't keep records of turtle mortality on Minnesota roads, but the DNR says helping the reptiles cross the street is an important step in preserving the species in Minnesota and North America.

Here are some things to consider if you're going to help a turtle, according to the DNR:

  • Only turtles that are in imminent danger should be moved – using your hands – out of harm's way. If the turtle can make it across the road safely, leave them be.
  • Be safe. Make sure you're not putting yourself in danger by helping the animal.
  • Handle turtles gently – and don't handle them too much. Pick turtles (except snappers and softshells) up gently along the shell edge near the mid-point of their body.
  • Be aware, many turtles will empty their bladder when they're picked up off the ground, so don't drop them if that surprises you.
  • Move the turtle in the same direction they were traveling, in as direct a line as possible. Remember, they may not be going towards the water.
  • If possible, document your find online here. This will help officials determine what changes need to be made to preserve the turtle population.

And if you see a turtle that was injured, you can take it to your nearest permitted wildlife rehabilitation center, the DNR says.

For more about helping Minnesota's nine species of turtles, click here and here.

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