"Paw, why do the little box turtles try to cross the road? Can we help them?"

Andy: "Well Opie, why do the little box turtles cross the road? I'd say I never really thought 'bout it much but now you asked...I don't really know why they cross the road."

Opie: "Well maybe Gommer knows, paw. How 'bout it Gommer, maybe you know why the little box turtles cross the road? They just git squished!"

Gommer: "Shazam, Opie! 'Course I know why."

Andy: "Really Gommer! Well then Gommer why don't you tell Opie why the little box turtles cross the road!"

Gommer: "G-o-o-o-l-l-l-i-e Andy, everybody knows that the little ole box turtles cross the road to git to the Shell Station! Least ways that's what Sergeant Carter told me! Isn't that right Barnie?"

Barnie: "Leave me outa this, just leeeave meee outa this ...like I told Opie, I just ran one over this morning with the cruiser...Andy, he came outa nowhere, Andy, I didn't even see 'm...but I heard a crack an' I looked in the the rear view mirror ...and then I saw him, Andy...he was squished Andy, flat as a pancake, Andy...flat as one o' Aunt Bea's pancakes right off the griddle, there it was in the road, flat as one o" Aunt Bea's pancakes ...terrrible... Andy, it was just terrible!"

...flat as one o' Aunt Bea's pancakes right off the griddle!!
...flat as one o' Aunt Bea's pancakes right off the griddle!!

I hope that fantasy episode has caught your attention and maybe tickled your funny bone! The rest of this hub page is lengthy so if you are not really interested in box turtles skip to the video at the end just in case you come across a snapping turtle crossing a road you are on. CIAO!

Now maybe you've seen a box turtle crossing a road knowing how it was going to end for the turtle but too busy to give it a second thought...perhaps thinking, oh well, there is nothing that can be done for these dumb animals anyway, or maybe you have witnessed one of the "gifted" road warrior rocket scientists who swerve to purposely run the animal over (I have).

Well, whoever you are I'm glad you are reading this and hope that you are ready to be enlightened as to the plight of these amazing little animals that eat worms and can live to be a hundred spending all those years in a 2 - 4 acre home range. Eastern Box Turtles are a terrestrial speciesof turtle that among other things is unique in that their plastron or bottom shell is hinged and they can close up tight like a box!

For a glimpse into the dark, dark nature of some members of the Homo Sapiens species read about a student who set out to discover how we can help turtles crossing the road. Go to: Turtles de-shell shocking human nature

Want to be a Citizen Scientist ?

You can help with the Piedmont Wildlife Center Box Turtle Connection study!

If you find a LIVE or DEAD Box Turtle in your backyard or anywhere else you can help!

  • All you have to do is:
  1. Take pictures like the two shown right.
  2. Send the pictures and your address (or GPS location) to: turtle@piedmontwildlifecenter.org
  3. Fill out the data sheet, found HERE.

Did you know that every single adult box turtle is vital to the existence of its population?

Box turtle habitats have become fragmented throughout the eastern United States due to road and real estate development. In these type of areas the populations of box turtles are so sensitive to the loss of adults that, according to modeling studiesof Dr. Richard Seigel of Towson University, losing just three box turtles from a population of 50 females and 50 males could doom that population to an irreversible slow decline and eventually extinction.

Studies show most box turtles don't make it to the eight or so years needed to mature to breeding age: Domestic cats and dogs, foxes, raccoons, skunks, crows, turkeys, opossums, and other animals love to eat turtle eggs and young turtles because their shells are not yet hard enough for much protection. Any turtles that do survive have to contend with roads and increasing loss of their habitats to real estate development, which consequently brings more roads, more cats and dogs, and more people who like to remove turtles from the wild, hoping they will make good pets. A wild female box turtle might live 50 or more years and every one of those years is crucial to ensure that, of the 2 to 6 eggs she may lay a year, at least one of her young will survive to adulthood and replace her in the population.

  • How You Can Help Wildlife At Home
    To survive wildlife needs shelter, water, food and space. To help make your land able to be a home for many different wildlife species here are things you can do.
  • Mowers and Box Turtles
    FACT: Every year myriads of box turtles are kiled and maimed by mowing machines. Sadly mower operators likely have no idea that turtles are even present where they mow. Adopting any of these 5 measures will help you prevent unnecessary EBT deaths!
  • Box Turtle Relocation Studies Many studies have indicated that box turtles that are relocated away from their home range seldom prosper and often die shortly after being relocated. Here are some studies.

Why are so many turtles killed on highways?

Must be 18 or older to view this one.
Must be 18 or older to view this one.

Could it be that when foraging for food color is important? Fact is yellows and reds are their favorite! They are attracted by bright yellow stripes on streets and go for them. No doubt they think they are flowers. If the Department of Transportation would use orange or white stripes, the box turtle population could skyrocket.

So what can one do when one sees a box turtle crossing the road?

Turtle "experts" will tell you to place the box turtle on the side of the road in the direction it was heading. My understanding of that point of view requires one to approach it this way...if you remove an animal from the wild, you guarantee extinction of this individual, its progeny, and its progeny's progeny in that population. If you move it to the other side of the road, it has a chance to remain in the wild population and survive and multiply. Even if it is run over in subsequent years, there will be a chance some of its progeny could survive, and of course some of its progeny's progeny. Therefore for the purposes of wild populations, leaving the animal will provide the best chance to keep population numbers high as possible. Will you see the animal squished on the road later? Yes, that is possible, but it may be worth the sacrifice in the long run for the population if it in the meantime has had the chance to produce young.

Sounds reasonable? Sure, the first time I heard this conventional wisdom from the "experts" I thought it made sense too...until I studied this species, and then thought for myself. Sadly, whoever first came up with such a blanket conclusion to place the box turtle on the other side of the road in the direction it was heading did not think this through and in many cases has mislead the good Samaritan to doom the animal to a premature death (in which case no progeny are produced and even if the turtle were to live long enough to breed the progeny would most likely encounter the same end long before ever reaching reproductive maturity 8 - 10 years). If this conventional "wisdom" was always the best advice, we would not find areas throughout the United States where large populations of box turtles disappeared in one generation (50 - 100 years) once roads went in. But, I have to say I do agree with this approach IF ...... the road is out in the country and little traveled or in the wild, a road where it is likely a turtle could cross before any cars come along. and not a relatively recent (last 50 years or so) result of ongoing development in the area. The latter is where the most people will encounter the most box turtles crossing a road and that leads me to why I disagree with the conventional "wisdom" in most cases.

First of all, let's consider the obvious: Just because a turtle is pointed in one direction upon your arrival doesn't mean the direction in which the turtle was headed is the same - turtles can be hit or spun around unhurt, even flipped or they freeze, closed up and fearful of the traffic whizzing by. I've seen turtles on more than one occasion get in the road and turn around because of fear of the traffic. Only if you could watch them as they approach the road can you say for sure which way they were originally headed.

Much of a Box Turtle's life is spent buried under leaves and in the fauna only to come out during and after rains so they can rehydrate. This is also when they will forage for insects and worms brought out by the rain. They often follow drainage ditches(many drainage gullies are along roads) and vernal ponds which temporarily fill with rainwater. Studies have also suggested Box Turtles navigate by the sun to find their home range so a long rain with constant cloud cover obscuring a view of the sun for days can cause them to wander aimlessly sometimes going out of their home range. Therefore they may cross a road that they normally wouldn't go near. Then if you help them to the other side, when the sun comes up the next morning, they start to navigate back to their home range and guess what, they go over the same road you helped them across. Every single situation is different so other factors like the nature of a locality (is it being developed?), type of road (helping a turtle across a four lane interstate won't save his life and might get you killed), and instinctual behavior of this species should be taken into account before a decision is made to "help" any turtle.

"Why did the turtle (chicken) cross the road?"

So .......Let's begin by answering that proverbial question,

Research studies on box turtles suggest they live their whole life on a 2 -4 acre home range and instinctively home by navigating the sun.
Research studies on box turtles suggest they live their whole life on a 2 -4 acre home range and instinctively home by navigating the sun.

In the box turtle's case the answer is not just "to get to the other side"! (...or to get to the Shell station)

Box turtles cross roads for these 4 reasons:

(1) The road crosses their home range, probably dividing nesting sites and/or hibernation sites in the turtle's home range .

(2) People have taken the turtle from it's home range, and released it so it is obeying a homing instinct to go back.

(3) Road construction and development of their home range has forced them to search for or move to greener pastures.

(4) Long periods of cloud cover obscure their ability to know they are wandering off their home range (they navigate by the sun).

If the case is number (1) the road divides the turtle's home range - Studies have shown that adult box turtles will dwell in a home range of up to 2 or 4 acres. A hatchlings' home range can be measured by square yards for years and growing as they grow. So, why in the world would anyone conclude that moving the turtle to the side of the road in the direction (you think) he was headed would help him when the road it is crossing probably dissects its home range. It could be as it matures its growing home range encompasses the road. Within its home range a mature box turtle will travel every year to and from its favorite nesting site if female and/or favorite hibernating grounds. When a road exists in its home range it likely will have to cross the road for either of these reasons or at least just to forage. How many times would you think he will be crossing the road again in just a year, let alone.....in the next 50 - 100 years? He has no chance of living a long life!

If in the case of number (2) the turtle is obeying its homing instinct - that means, as often happens, ignorant of the turtle's natural behavior, (usually) a child has captured this turtle and later bored with his new pet he releases it far (usually many miles) from where the turtle was found. So according to conventional "wisdom" the good Samaritan moves the turtle to the other side of the road and it continues in the direction of its original home range miles away only to encounter more roads between here and there, not to mention dogs, lawnmowers, more people, and other dangers it may encounter along the way! If this is the case a turtle doesn't have much of a chance of living a long life!

I would like to note that at least one study has shown that occasionally there are old male turtles who seem to wander aimlessly without regard for a home range. No conclusions can be made from this observation other than it is the exception rather than the rule. Speculation over the cause for this ranges from a genetic, health or environmental cause to them simply looking for a mate.

If in the case of number (3) the turtle is in search of greener pastures - real estate development, building of roads, or nature (floods, disease, forest fire) may be destroying the box turtle's habitat and it is forced to wander to find a mate, food, nesting grounds, or a hibernation site. These turtles are often already, starved, stressed, possibly diseased or injured and since they are such slow travelers there is little chance they will survive the pace of development or natural disaster to make it to a greener pasture which usually doesn't exist. Ironically its homing instinct may bring it right back to the old home range that has now been replaced by concrete, roads, buildings and bulldozers, flooded or burned up. I hate to say it but...does it have a chance of living a long life?

If in the case of number (4) cloud cover has caused the turtle to feel lost and so trying it's best to navigate without the sun visible it sets on a path in one direction taking it off its home range and across roads. When the sun eventually comes out the turtle gets its bearings and guess what. It heads back in the opposite direction across the road again (if he wasn't killed crossing it the first time) to reach its home range.

All you have to do is think about it. If you have lived for more that 40 years, I'll bet you can probably remember seeing box turtles crossing roads often when you were young but there has been development over the years - are you still seeing box turtles on those roads? And why is that? - did the surviving turtles learn to stay off roads or get a genetic disposition to avoid roads so through ("un") natural selection there still lives a large box turtle population that avoids highways? If that could be true it would require the loss of the instinct to travel to a suitable nesting site or suitable hibernation site. I suppose that would have helped their survival rate and longevity? Instinctive behavior does not die out in one generation.

Source

A Solution?

The truth is, when you see a box turtle crossing the road, leaving the turtle at that location (on any side of the road) is most likely a death sentence for that turtle and its progeny (unless as I've already stated it is a road or trail out in the wild, the "boonies", out of the way of development). Although the thought of taking animals from the wild is anathema to me, I have to say the best course of action (if it can safely be done for the box turtle on the road) would be to remove the box turtle from danger and immediately try to locate a turtle rescue, local box turtle refuge or a local herp society knowledgeable about this species. After all the wild isn't wild anymore when cars whiz by and concrete is everywhere. You could put it up for adoption to lifelong collectors who know what they are doing (with the Internet today this is easy). There it can be cared for by dedicated enthusiasts who are knowledgeable about the box turtle's instinctive behaviors, have access to veterinary care and will probably allow the turtle to live a long life and multiply. People can be found today with collections throughout the country that successfully propagate these turtles at a rate many times that found in the wild.

Source
Source

However, this advice may not be for you because it may be that in your state you could be fined up to $5000, for saving the turtle from becoming road kill. Although a well intentioned law to curb collecting of turtles for the pet trade, these state's legislators most likely were listening to the same "experts" who say "put the turtle to the side of the road in the direction he is headed" when passing that law. (yes. we believe you should put the turtle on the side of the road it was heading to...but if we catch you touching it we'll fine you $5000 - yep, that will save the population). Some of the same experts assert that keeping captive bred turtles should be outlawed when captive breeding provides a deterrent to taking pets from the wild by providing healthy, captive bred animals which are proven to make better pets for pet trade. But no one asks why, if the goal is to protect wild populations of this animal, the same lawmakers don't come down on the developers who bulldoze tens of thousands of boxies to their death on acres of land they develop for a profit. They purposely target and destroy habitat without any regard for the helpless box turtle which could be easily collected from the properties with volunteers even while clearing is underway. Caring citizen Volunteers would do that! 4H clubs, boy and girl scouts, high school science clubs all over the nation would jump at an opportunity to save the little turtles and promote public awareness of their plight. But what the lawmakers decide to do is apply a $5000 fine to the well intentioned "Samaritan" who can't bear to see the animal squished?

Relocating a box turtle to a suitable protectorate runs its own risks, but I'd say far less risk than leaving the turtle in a home range dissected by a road where it is virtually guaranteed by its instinctual behavior to become subject to a premature death resulting in a steady decline to extinction in the population of that area, the consequences of the growing human population. I say SO WHAT!? If removing the turtle will speed up the already destined decline to extinction in the population in a fragmented habitat - there shouldn't be a population of box turtles there, where the progeny will be slaughtered on roads daily, year after year when they start to mature and their range expands. Why shouldn't they be relocated to anywhere they can live their 50 or 100 year lifespan? With the communications we now have to disseminate important information to promote the proper care of these animals and to find homes for them where they will thrive and procreate this is an EASY task and it would be an even easier task if lawmakers weren't in the pockets of their business constituents.

If conservationists and legislators really want to tackle the problem and keep the box turtle from becoming an endangered species they should get serious and instead of just looking to punish people have an approach that educates people and deals with the biggest offenders, developers of roads and real estate. Inexpensive road barriers only 10" high, the height of a step, or less with a top rim or installed at an angle would keep box turtles off roads that go through populations and ecology minded communities can afford to put them in and keep them in repair - populations in an area using them would soar!... and could be replenished with captive bred hatchlings. the barriers could be fabricated from recycled plastic water bottles which I understand cover the earth! State wildlife departments could work in conjunction with a variety of organizations all over their state to provide licensed volunteer programs to save, study and propagate populations. If they can stock fish and have other conservation approaches to wildlife populations they can devise a plan to help box turtle populations survive. What they are doing now, with a possible recent trial exception in Maryland, basically just slow down the inevitable, but does nothing to solve the problem.

Search for Turtle Rescues

Living by a four lane interstate I have first hand knowledge about these turtles. There is a wooded median between the two lanes in either direction, 100 yards wide in places with a creek running through it. The box turtles that lived in the median, when they got older, might sun themselves on the shoulder of the road after a rain. Sometimes they'd try to cross the road (but never make it) often they'd turn around and go back. You just never knew. But one thing's for sure. In thirty plus years of the highway being there, there aren't any box turtles around anymore and it's not because people collected them.

I know this has been a lengthy presentation and probably way more information than you need or wish to know, but I wanted to make it clear that there are sound logical reasons for not blindly accepting the "conventional wisdom" shoved down our throats by do good-er "experts" who can't see the forest for the trees, or should I say can't see the turtle's plight for the bulldozers.

BTW - for those of you who are thinking well what about that snapper I saw crossing the road...you should know that usually aquatic turtles crossing roads in spring or early summer are females looking to lay eggs so it is just as important to their populations to see that they do get to lay their eggs and not get squished. Aquatic species are way more prolific than box turtles; a female snapper can lay up to 40 eggs. Below is a video of what to do when you find a snapper crossing the road.

As if road kill and lawn mowers aren't bad enough for turtle populations now they have to worry about a virus!

Source

Last, but not least...

Fall is the time for raking leaves. Burning your leaves should be done as soon as possible. What is just a pile of leaves to you, appears to be a great over winter place to a box turtle, often it is the first over winter location for a baby box turtle. Burn sooner rather than later, or pile all the leaves up in an area and leave them for the turtles. Don’t risk burning box turtles with the leaves


More little known facts about three unique turtle species!

More by this Author


Comments: If you have a different point of view go ahead and share it on this topic because we should keep an open mind on this subject! Convince me I am wrong 11 comments

MyMastiffPuppies profile image

MyMastiffPuppies 5 years ago

Excellent spin on the forum post! Love the part with Opie and gang! Voted up, useful, funny and awesome...


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 5 years ago from United States

I always stop to lend box turtles a hand when I see them on the road. Love the hub--and your shell pun. Vote up!


Aficionada profile image

Aficionada 5 years ago from Indiana, USA

Good job! Great way to grab attention and educate the rest of us on a subject we don't know much about. I like the video too.


tsadjatko profile image

tsadjatko 5 years ago from maybe (the guy or girl) next door Author

Thanks to y'all 3 - I appreciate the akolades.


paige 4 years ago

wow, i was just about to start following the advise, "put them on the side of the road they are going" because you see that EVERYWHERE but i'm glad i found your site. you have some GREAT ideas. unfortunately the big G doesn't really care about turtles.


jacqueline 4 years ago

I live in an area full of box turtles and when I see them crossing the road, I always stop and put it to the side as far in as I can safely go but today, on my way to work, I ran over one in my vehicle. I felt horrible and after reading this article, I feel even worse. It made me cry : (


April Reynolds profile image

April Reynolds 3 years ago from Arizona

I remember seeing box turtles along the road growing up. Fortunately we lived out in the country with very little traffic, so we didn't see too many squished ones. Liked the Andy episode!


Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

very interesting


peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 20 months ago from Home Sweet Home

so sorry for the turtles on the road, extremely dangerous to cross the road, when I see snail on the path, I usually pick it up and put it on the grass. Can't bear to see it get squashed


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 14 months ago from Stillwater, OK

Today I found the biggest alligator snapping turtle that I had ever seen. He showed me where there was a pond that was obscured by a forest. Really, I'm not joking.


tsadjatko profile image

tsadjatko 14 months ago from maybe (the guy or girl) next door Author

Thanks for visiting deb! but...

I thought Oklahoma was all plains...

"OOOOk-lahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain, And the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet, When the wind comes right behind the rain QOOOOk-lahoma, Ev'ry night my honey lamb and I, Sit alone and talk and watch a hawk makin' lazy circles in the sky."

(see, I figured you like hawks cause you're in Oklahoma :-) but

forests? Well hey, I learn something new every day)

Be sure to check out my hub page on the "uncommon" common snapping turtle.

PS thanks for the kind fan mail. I'm looking forward to reading more of your work.

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