ARE TURTLES CROSSING ROADS?
May 12, 2013
U.S. turtles begin laying eggs at this time of year, and I have recently
received the following questions.
While walking in the woods in north Florida we found a box turtle that
had been partially eaten by a predator. Inside her body were four oblong
white eggs with firm shells but also lots of smaller, round yellow eggs.
Is spring when box turtles lay their eggs? Is it possible to hatch the
eggs? Would I need an incubator of some sort?
Box turtles lay their eggs in the spring, as do all but two of the more
than 50 species of U.S. turtles. And, yes, you might be able to hatch
the four shelled eggs. The shelling process within a female turtle generally
takes from a few hours up to a day or so. The calcium shell layer of
an egg forms around one of the bright yellow follicles (yolk) and becomes
leathery. The female may lay the clutch right away or hold them for
several days while waiting for suitable environmental conditions of
temperature and rainfall. All U.S. turtles lay their eggs on land by
digging a hole in the ground, depositing the eggs, and then covering
the nest with soil.
keep turtle eggs on moist paper towels to hatch them as long as you
do not let them dry out or get so wet they get moldy. Two years ago
we incubated and hatched eight baby snapping turtles in this way. The
eggs were picked up on a highway where the mother turtle had been smashed
by a truck as she was leaving a lake to lay eggs. When trying to hatch
turtle eggs, do not roll them over for the first several days as the
developing embryo gravitates upward and can be suffocated if the egg
is moved--once the embryos begin to get larger, moving the eggs is no
In early May I saw two large turtles crossing a highway in south Alabama
next to a lake, but they were headed toward a large field. The driver
behind me hit one of them and probably killed it. Why would the turtles
be leaving the water? If the other car had not been so close that I
could not safely stop, should I have put the turtles back in the lake?
What if it were a snapping turtle that can definitely bite?
Aquatic turtles leave lakes for different reasons. At this time of year,
they likely were leaving the water to nest. Thousands of turtles are
killed on highways each year by motorists, most of whom do not see the
turtle or cannot avoid hitting it. Helping a turtle off a road might
save its life. However, the first consideration must be for the safety
of you and others on the road. Getting out of a car on a busy highway
can be dangerous. If you are in a situation where you can safely help
a turtle across the road without creating a traffic hazard, take it
to the side in the direction it was headed. Give the turtle credit for
knowing where it wants to go and don't try to second-guess its decision.
Also, keep in mind that the turtle will not regard you as a thoughtful,
caring individual with its best interests in mind. It will be frightened
and will consider you a dangerous predator. Most turtles bite. An adult
snapping turtle can inflict a painful bite and serious scratches.
stopped for a large female slider turtle crossing a busy street in Aiken,
S.C. The pickup truck in the other lane stopped as well. We sat for
about five minutes while the turtle walked across the road and traffic
backed up behind us. Amazingly, no one blew a horn. This is probably
the best way to get a turtle off the road if you are in a community
in which people acknowledge that protecting wildlife is important.
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