Why the turtle crosses the road

Published 2:23 pm Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Turtles start to cross roadways this time of year for nesting

By Hunter Cloud
The (Brookhaven) Daily Leader

NEW SIGHT — It is the time of year where drivers encounter all sorts of reptilian wildlife on their drives. Rattlesnakes, copperheads, box turtles and sliders make their way across the road. 

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Colt Mooney, a wildlife biologist with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, said the state is home to two dozen species of turtles. The creatures can be found crawling across roadways this time of year. 

“They can be often found crossing roads and yards looking for a good place to lay their eggs,” Mooney said. “Nesting season runs from April through the summer. Be on the lookout particularly after our spring showers when the turtles will be most likely to move looking for soft sandy soils that will make for easier nest digging.” 

He said when people encounter turtles on the roadways they often want to stop and help them to cross. People should do a few things when they decide to help a turtle cross the road. They should carefully pull over and help the turtle only when it is safe to do so. 

Drivers are most likely to encounter box and slider turtles in Mississippi. The turtles can be easily moved along with your shoe. On occasion, however, Mooney said drivers might encounter snapping turtles. 

“For one of those you may have to get creative making sure to stay away from the pointy end,” Mooney said. “Using a stick or letting them bite onto a shirt or towel and then dragging them across the road are a couple of ways people have improvised. In general, it is recommended to put turtles on the side of the road they were headed toward.” 

Turtles that nest in yards can be protected from predators and humans with a few simple items. A flag can be placed so you know where the nest is and can avoid running or mowing it over. An old milk crate can help cover the nest to keep animals such as pets from digging up the turtle eggs. 

Mooney said people should cut holes in the milk crate just big enough for baby turtles to escape when they hatch after about three months. 

He added that while he knows people love turtles, it is best to not turtlenap them. “Box turtles, in particular, have a small established home range, so moving them does not usually fare well for them and they aren’t going to stay where you put them,” Mooney said. 

Anyone who encounters injured turtles or a nest that will be disturbed can contact wildlife rehabbers. 

“We have some great wildlife rehabbers across the state who will likely be able to help,” Mooney said. “You can find your closest rehabber by contacting MDWFP at 601-432-2400.

“One rescue in particular is Central MS Turtle Rescue, which has been pivotal in helping out our turtles in Mississippi.” 

People who are curious and want to learn more about reptiles and amphibians in Mississippi can visit msherps.com.