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NCC — Give Turtles Crossing The Road A Brake

Snapping Turtle, a large freshwater turtle of the family Chelydridae, is found in southeastern Canada.

As the world recognizes  World Turtle Day, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is highlighting concern about collisions between motorists and turtles in Canada. One of the major threats to turtle populations across the country is being hit by vehicles.

These can happen on back roads on the way to the cottage, like on Highway 6 by Summit Lake near Nakusp, and on busy roads in major centres, 

The problem is very serious in some provinces. For example, in Ontario, seven of the eight different turtles are considered ‘Species at Risk’.  

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) encourages motorists to slow down when they see a turtle in the road and check to be sure they can safely steer around it.  NCC has also produced a video with tips on how drivers can help return wayward turtles to safety.

This is the time of year when turtles are on the move. Spring rain and warmer weather nudges turtles to emerge from their burrows and begin a search for food and mates, which sometimes leads them across roadways.

Turtles spend most of their lives in a small area of habitat, but sometimes wander as far as ten kilometres. Young males make up most of the travelers as they search for territories of their own and for females. Females are also crossing roads in search of nesting sites.

Like other reptiles, turtles are cold-blooded so basking on warm asphalt feels good on cool spring days.

Turtles use roads to bask in the warmth and lay eggs on the shoulder. The death of one adult turtle has a big impact on the population as a whole. It takes turtles about 20 years to reach reproductive age. Once they reach that age they can lay hundreds of eggs throughout their lifetime. A loss of one adult turtle is the loss of 20 years of development.

“Turtles are not just adorable, they’re an important part of wetland ecosystems,” said Kristyn Ferguson, NCC conservation scientist. “They help keep wetlands clean and healthy by eating dead plants, insects and animals, and play the role of the wetland janitor.”

Tips and facts:

  • Make sure the road is safe for you to pull over and help. Put your safety first.
  • Move the turtle in the direction it was going, otherwise it will likely try to cross again.
  • For turtles that hide their heads in their shells (like the Blanding’s turtle and the Midland painted turtle), simply pick the turtle up and carry it across the road.
  • Snapping turtles weigh as much as 34 kilograms (75 pounds) and have heavy, spiked tails and massive armoured shells. These turtles cannot hide their heads in their shells and have a dangerously sharp snout. To move them and avoid injury, lift using the “handles” on either side of their tales on the back of their shells and “wheelbarrow” them across the road on their front legs.
  • Pushing or shoving turtles across roads with your feet or sticks isn't advisable. Their shells aren't as thick underneath, and rough pavement can do a lot of damage.
  • Other threats to turtles include habitat loss, invasive species and illegal collection for the pet trade.