- MassWildlife's Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program
- Division of Fisheries and Wildlife
Media Contact for Why did the turtle cross the road?
Marion Larson, MassWildlife
Across Massachusetts, spring is the season of movement. Hibernating animals emerge from their winter resting areas in search of food and mates. Turtles are no exception. From mid-May to early July, thousands of turtles throughout Massachusetts travel from their winter retreats to new areas to find food and nest. You may find turtles on roadways, in your backyard, or other unexpected areas as they move across the landscape to find resources they need to survive. Even if it’s not apparent to you where they’re headed, turtles have a keen sense of direction and may be on their way to wetland areas or open, upland sites such as lawns, gravel pits, or roadsides for nesting.
As you drive throughout Massachusetts—and New England for that matter—keep turtles and other animals in mind. Follow these three easy steps to help ensure that our turtles have the best chance of survival this spring.
- Do not risk getting hurt or causing harm to others by unsafely pulling off the road or trying to dodge traffic. If the opportunity to safely move a turtle from the road occurs, move it in the direction it was heading and off the edge of the road. It is trying to get to habitats and resources it needs. Do not take turtles home or move them to a "better” location. Most turtles should be grasped gentled along the shell edge near the mid-point of the body. However, snapping turtles are fast and have very powerful jaws that can inflict a bad bite. A snapping turtle can reach your hands if you lift it by the sides of its shell. If you must move a snapping turtle, use a broom to coax it into a plastic tub or box. Never lift a snapping turtle only by the tail; this can injure their spine.
- Slow down and watch for turtles on roadways that are bordered by wetlands on both sides. These areas are commonly used as crossing points. Also, remember areas where you’ve seen turtles crossing in the past. Turtles are animals of repetition and chances are, more turtles will likely cross there or somewhere close by.
- If you see turtles crossing the road, report it! Information that you provide on the Linking Landscapes online portal helps MassWildlife and MassDOT prioritize transportation projects to help turtles and other wildlife cross roads more safely. Just as importantly, contact your town Conservation Commission and local conservation partners to evaluate resources within your town to help turtles. Signage, barrier fencing, or seasonal speed bumps can reduce roadkill.
Several turtle species can live beyond 80 years. Some species may need to reach ages of 35 to 40 years in order to successfully replace themselves in the population. It’s important to protect older adult turtles from cars, especially during this time of year when turtles are crossing roads more frequently. Losing adult turtles at an elevated rate can lead to eventual local extinction of a population.
Massachusetts is home to ten different native species of turtles, not including five species of sea turtles that frequent our coastal areas. Six of the ten species are protected under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. Learn more in our Guide to Turtles of Massachusetts.