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State threatened Blanding's Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) crossing a Minnesota roadway. Photo courtesy Dav Kaufman.

Turtles now crossing roads in Minnesota to find a place to nest

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outdoors Brainerd, 56401
Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is reminding people that turtles crossing roads now are often moving to familiar nesting locations.

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Allowing turtles to cross the roads is vital to the preservation of regional populations.

“Many turtles and other species are killed on Minnesota roads each year, especially during the nesting season,” said Carol Hall, DNR herpetologist, “In fact, roadway mortality is believed to be a major factor in turtle population declines throughout the United States.”

In Minnesota, where all turtles are mainly aquatic, overland journeys usually occur: in connection with seasonal movements between different wetland habitats; during the annual early summer nesting migration of egg laden females; or when newly hatched youngsters seek out the backwaters and ponds for their permanent home. Turtles can travel many miles during a single year, and may even be found far from water.

Giving Turtles a Hand

The following points should be remembered:

• Think safety. Simply pulling off the road and turning on hazard lights may alert other drivers to slow down. Be aware of surroundings and traffic.

• Avoid excessive handling. While wanting to inspect turtles closely is understandable, excessive handling can disrupt normal behavior. Prolonged examination of turtles should therefore be limited to only one or two individuals of each species.

• Allow unassisted road crossings. When turtles can safely cross roads unaided due to a lack of oncoming traffic, allow them to do so. Observe from a distance and avoid rapid movements, as doing otherwise will often cause turtles to change direction, stop, or seek shelter within their shells.

• Handle turtles gently. If necessary to pick them up, all turtles except Snappers and Softshells ("leatherbacks" - see link below for more information on these species that may bite when picked up) should be grasped gently along the shell edge near the mid-point of the body. Be advised that many turtles empty their bladder when lifted off the ground, so be careful not to drop them if they should suddenly expel water.

• Maintain direction of travel. Always move turtles in the same direction they were traveling in when encountered. Turtles should always be moved across roadways in as direct a line as possible. It may seem helpful to "assist" the turtle in its journey by moving them to a nearby waterbody, but it is important to remember the phrase, "If you care, leave it there."

• Transportation and parks departments can help turtles by not mowing ditches during peak nesting season (typically late May to early July in Minnesota), as many turtles like to nest on the elevated roadway shoulders. If mowing is absolutely necessary, an 8-inch deck-height is recommended.

For more information, visit www.dnr.state.mn.us/reptiles_amphibians/helping-turtles-roads.html.

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