Why did the turtle cross the road? To get to the other side, actually! We saw this gorgeous woodland box turtle crossing the Beech Woodland Trail at Rocky Fork Metro Park during a tram program. Luckily we were able to stop the tram in time to rescue the turtle. Of course, seeing the turtle brought up plenty of questions and conversation about what to do when you see a box turtle (or any turtle) on the road or in a path.
There can be many reasons why a turtle will cross a road or trail. Maybe there is a water or food source over there. Maybe it’s where the turtle usually calls home. Maybe there’s soft soil where a female wants to lay her eggs. Whatever the reason, the turtle wants to get there. How can you help if you see a turtle in the road?
What should you do?
It’s best to let the turtle get where it’s going on its own. If you can, shield the turtle from other people, bikers, cars etc. If you’re on a walking or bike path, just stand near the turtle to let it go where it wants to go. Move slowly and don’t stand too close so you don’t scare the turtle. Quietly let other people know that the turtle is there and you’re letting it safely cross the path. If you’re on a roadway and you can safely block the turtle with your car, try that. Stop with your hazard lights on to alert other drivers that you, your car, and the turtle are in the road.
If you must, you can pick up the turtle to get it to the other side of the road/path more quickly. Always put the turtle on the other side of the road in the direction it was going. If you don’t, it will turn around and continue on its original path and end up back in the road again.
How should you do it?
Woodland box turtles and midland painted turtles are species that are easy and safe to pick up. Hold the turtle with two hands around the middle of its shell, and walk to the other side of the road.(Imagine how you hold a big hamburger before you eat it… that’s how you should hold a turtle!) Place the turtle gently on the ground and watch it go where it chooses.
Snapping turtles and softshell turtles are much more challenging to move from a roadway, as they can be big, heavy and aggressive. If you must pick up one of these big guys, try to slide one of your hands under its bottom shell, and use your other hand to hold the upper shell toward the back legs, and then hurry across the road. You may want to put a stick near its mouth so it will bite the stick during this procedure, and not you! If you have access to a shovel, use the shovel to pick up the turtle. A broom can also be used to shoo the turtle across the road and keep something between you and the animal.
If you pick up a turtle, always return it to where you found it, or across the road. If you take a turtle even a half mile away from where you found it, and release it elsewhere, it can become confused and not survive in its new home. Furthermore, please do not bring turtles into Metro Parks’ nature centers or ranger stations. Staff will ask you to return the turtle to where you found it. Our nature centers already have captive turtles used for educational programs.
What if the turtle is injured?
If you find an injured turtle, please contact Ohio Wildlife Center, our local, licensed wildlife rehabilitators, for advice. They can be reached at 614.793.WILD. Metro Parks staff are not licensed to care for injured turtles, or any injured wildlife.
Box turtles are on Ohio’s Species of Concern list, meaning their population numbers are dwindling. Car strikes are the number one cause of death for woodland box turtles, so we need to take care of this amazing species.
(By Andrea Krava, Naturalist at Blendon Woods and Rocky Fork Metro Park)