Over 70% of Southern Ontario’s wetlands have been drained or filled or otherwise converted to other uses. The wetlands that remain are often fragmented by roads.
Although many of our turtles spend most of their time in the water, all need to lay their eggs on dry land. Since roads are everywhere they often need to cross them to get to their nesting sites. Many of the turtles hit by cars are adult females on their way to lay eggs. June is the height of nesting season, but be sure to keep an eye out for turtles crossing roads anytime between April and November!
Unlike other animals that are often hit by cars, turtles move slowly. It is not hard to avoid them if you are driving a reasonable speed and looking far ahead. Not only is driving carefully safer for turtles – it’s also safer for you and your family!
Report Your Sightings
Ontario’s reptiles and amphibians are becoming increasingly rare. In fact, three quarters (18 of 24) of Ontario’s reptile species are listed as species at risk. One of the most important things you can do to help conserve these species is to report observations of these animals to monitoring programs such as the Ontario Turtle Tally and the Ontario Reptile & Amphibian Atlas.
Sightings of any Ontario turtle found in the wild can be reported to the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas. Please visit their website to learn more about the amphibians and reptiles of Ontario and how you can contribute to the atlas. Sightings of rare species are shared with the Natural Heritage Information Centre, the Ministry of Natural Resources office which tracks rare species in the province.
The Ontario Turtle Tally was established by the Adopt-a-Pond program at the Toronto Zoo to monitor the health of turtle populations. Visit their website for information on amphibians and reptiles and their habitats, reports sightings of frogs & turtles, and more!
Help Turtles Cross the Street
Always be sure of your own safety before stopping to help a turtle on the road. Gently move the turtle in the direction she is going. Do not handle the turtle any more than is necessary. Once you have moved it across the road retreat a respectful distance if you wish to continue observing it.
Most turtles can be picked up carefully with two hands. But careful helping a snapping turtle across the road – keep a safe distance from their head as they will snap at you if they feel threatened.
How to handle a snapping turtle:
- An uninjured snapper can be coaxed across the road using a shovel or a board, or by allowing it to bite a long stick and pulling it across the road.
- If you must pick up a snapper by hand, do so by sliding fingers behind the turtle’s hind legs, with the tail between your hands and gripping the shell between your fingers and thumbs. You may also slide one hand under the turtle’s belly to grab a hold of the plastron (the belly shell). Snappers are very strong and will squirm and thrash their hind legs making it difficult to hold on.
- A Snapper can reach it’s midpoint so do not pick it up near its middle.
- Never pick up a turtle by the tail; you may damage its spine.
Print this document and keep it in your car so that you’ll know what to do the next time you see a turtle on the road. Turtle Handling 101
Drop Off Injured Turtles
Visit our turtle drop-off page for information on what to do if you find an injured turtle.
Dropping an injured turtle off to KTTC really can give a turtle a second chance at life. More than two thirds of the turtles brought into KTTC survive and are released back into the wild.
Never care for any injured or sick wild animal yourself, always take it to your nearest licensed wildlife rehabilitation centre. This is in the best interest of the animals, to make sure they are only cared for by people with the proper knowledge who work in tandem with a veterinarian. If you are interested in becoming a wildlife custodian contact the Ontario Wildlife Rehabilitation & Education Network to find out about training opportunities.
If you know of a road that is particularly dangerous for turtles, you may want to look into putting up a sign to warn motorists to be on the lookout for these slow moving critters. Visit the Toronto Zoo’s Adopt-a-Pond site for more information on obtaining and erecting crossing signs.
If you do put up a sign please submit the location and habitat information to the Turtle Sign Inventory & Evaluation Project. This project will help road ecologists learn more about the placement – and eventually the effectiveness – of crossing signs.
For more information on effective road sign placement, read:
K.E. Gunson, F.W. Schueler, 2012. Effective placement of road mitigation using lessons learned from turtle crossing signs in Ontario. Ecological Restoration 30:329-334