Spring has sprung and so have the turtles crossing roads

Ask the Expert
 brown and yellow spotted turtle with a blue plate of greens and red food
A turtle being cared for and fed at Tufts Wildlife Clinic. Photo: Jeff Poole, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University

With the warmer weather, turtles begin exploring, working, and moving around, often in roadways. Our Tufts Wildlife Clinic expert outlines precautions to take in your travels to avoid harming turtles this spring. 

Do turtles hibernate?
Yes, though in turtles, this is more accurately called brumation.

Do we see an increase in turtles in the spring? If so, why?
Yes, because they are coming out of brumation and beginning their active season, which lasts through early fall. Turtles cross roads searching for mates, and female turtles also cross roads when looking for suitable nesting spots to lay eggs. Injuries caused by car accidents are the most common reason we see turtles at the Wildlife Clinic.

What should someone do if they see a turtle crossing a street?
Carefully and gently pick up and move the turtle across the road as long as it is safe for the person to do so (in terms of traffic). Always move it in the same direction it was going, even if that direction is away from water. The turtle knows where it is going, and if put back on the side of the road from which it was heading, it will cross again.

Is it safe to pick up a turtle and move it to get it to a safe place?
If the person carefully moves it, it is safe to pick up the turtle and move it to a safe place. Large snapping turtles should be handled carefully by placing your hands on the part of the shell near the hind legs and tail. Never put your hands near the front half or a snapping turtle's head. A towel or jacket placed over the back half of the turtle before a person picks it up will protect their hands from being scratched by the claws on the back feet. If the person cannot move the turtle themselves, they could call their local animal control officer or a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

What should someone do if they see a turtle is injured?
If a turtle needs assistance, they can bring it to Tufts Wildlife Clinic, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, or call their town animal control officer.

Maureen Murray, D.V.M., DABVP, V03, is the director of Tufts Wildlife Clinic, the Gabriel and Valerie Schmergel Term Director in Wildlife Medicine, and an associate clinical professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.