MONTPELIER — Vermont’s turtles are on the move this spring, and the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department is asking for the public’s help in keeping them safe.
Female turtles are looking for places to deposit their eggs, sometimes choosing to lay them along the shoulders of roads, which can bring them into the path of motor vehicles.
“Turtles often go across roads as they search for a nest site,” said Luke Groff, biologist for the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. “They are slow-moving animals, so they have a tough time making it safely across the road. Turtles grow slowly and live a long time, so losing a mature breeding female is a huge loss to the turtle population.”
Turtle nesting activity peaks this time of year, and drivers are urged to keep an eye out for turtles on the road, especially when driving near ponds and wetlands.
Fish and Wildlife and partners are working to collect data on road stretches that are hotspots for wildlife movement, including turtles.
When those sections of road are upgraded or repaved, the roads may be altered to protect the species involved.
To that end, they are working closely with VTrans, and with Jim Andrews from the Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas, among other partners.
Even with these changes, Andrews notes, the turtles’ best defense is to have friendly humans avoid them or safely help them across the roads.
“When you spot a turtle in the road, you may be able to help it across. First be sure you’re in a safe spot to stop and get out of your car, as human safety comes first,” said Andrews. “If you’re going to move a turtle off the road, always move it in the direction it was traveling. They know where they’re going.”
According to Andrews, most turtles can simply be picked up and carried across the road.
However, if the turtle has no colorful lines, spots, or other markings, it is probably a snapping turtle, so people should not get too close to the animal to avoid being bitten.
Snapping turtles’ necks are nearly as long as their shells.
Instead of picking them up, people should push the turtle across the road with an object such as a shovel.
Andrews is also asking paddlers, boaters, and anglers to report turtle sightings throughout the state to the Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas website at www.vtherpatlas.org.
The reports help conservationists keep track of the status of these species in order to act if populations appear to be in decline.
“Sending in a report is quick and easy,” said Andrews. “Just snap a photo or two of the turtle, and submit your observation via the website or email. We’re constantly impressed with Vermonters’ commitment to conservation and willingness to help save turtles.”