So, why did the turtle cross the road? No, not the chick -- the turtle. What’s the reason for this dangerous trip, one that could leave it splattered in the middle of the highway?
Last Friday, while driving Highway 60 and a couple of blacktop back roads, I was happy to see flood waters have receded, and I also counted more than a dozen box turtles making their way across the hot, dangerous road. It is a spring ritual, but why?
One friend with an effort to be humorous, offered, “To get to a shell station.” Someone else suggested to get to a SHELLter.”
There is no question that the travel by a female turtle is related to the spring ritual of reproduction. But what drives them across roads at this time?
Throughout much of the years, turtles will move from one water source to another, but the females are the ones most likely seen during the May to June nesting season. And they are the ones usually seen crossing roads.
According to several herpetologists, the turtles probably are crossing roads to lay their eggs. They apparently cross roads to lay their eggs as they leave marshy, wet surroundings in search of dry, warm soil, and often where there is more sun striking the soil.
How the slow moving, low to the ground knows where higher, drier soil exists is another question. Guess nature just provides the instinct.
When drivers see turtles crossing the road, some stop and try to help them avoid being pancaked by a car.
I’ve done it myself. However, there are a couple things to keep in mind.
Be careful with your auto to make sure you don’t encounter an accident with another motorist, while trying to be a good Samaritan for a turtle. The other point is don’t take the turtle back to the side of the road from which it came. It likely will just turn around and try to cross the road again.
Occasionally, female turtles will lay their eggs in a yard or driveway. This happens most often in May and June. Don't be alarmed. There is no need to artificially incubate the eggs or move them. Try not to disturb the female turtle as she will leave when finished.
The last several winters when I was at our little camp in Florida, a female turtle has come from a nearby pond to lay eggs near our back fence. In less than two hours, she lays her eggs and is gone. The eggs were laid in the same place, and I assume by the same turtle. I leave the eggs alone, and have never seen the youngsters.
The turtles I normally see crossing the road in the springtime are box turtles. They live long lives, are slow to mature, and have few babies hatch each year.
In general, turtles (there are many different ones) are among the oldest reptiles groups, dating back more than 200 million years. They predate lizards and snakes.
Nature is a wonderful thing, and watching turtles is just one of the neat experiences we are fortunate enough to observe.