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updated: 7/5/2014 5:37 PM

Fast cars make this a tough time for slow turtles

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  • Video: Helping injured turtles

  • An injured painted turtle recuperates at Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn. Cable ties and screws are used to help heal its broken shell.

       An injured painted turtle recuperates at Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn. Cable ties and screws are used to help heal its broken shell.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Wildlife specialist Rose Augustine holds an injured painted turtle at Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn.

       Wildlife specialist Rose Augustine holds an injured painted turtle at Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • A common snapping turtle is being treated for fractures in its upper and lower jaw at Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn.

       A common snapping turtle is being treated for fractures in its upper and lower jaw at Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Wildlife specialist Rose Augustine holds one of several injured turtles that are being nursed back to health at Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn.

       Wildlife specialist Rose Augustine holds one of several injured turtles that are being nursed back to health at Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
 

This is a tough time for pregnant turtles.

It's the season when expectant mothers leave their watery homes in search of higher and drier nesting sites to lay their eggs.

Unfortunately, their paths often lead them to cross busy roads -- and the combination of slow-moving turtles and fast-moving vehicles doesn't always turn out well.

Some of the animals don't survive their journey. Others are left with cracked shells or other injuries.

At Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn, animal experts already have treated 87 injured turtles this year and things don't appear to be slowing down.

Happily, most of the creatures have been safely returned to the wild, but not all are so lucky.

"It's a dangerous world out there for turtles," said Kevin Luby, a naturalist at the center. "The more roads we grid the landscape with, the more hazardous it is for them."

With several weeks remaining in the nesting season, DuPage County Forest Preserve District officials are hoping to prevent more turtles from being injured. So they're asking motorists to pay closer attention to the road while driving.

"We just have to trust that people will use their better judgment and try to avoid hitting turtles," Luby said.

Rose Augustine, a wildlife specialist at Willowbrook, said suburban drivers will have to be mindful again in the fall when the turtles are preparing for winter.

"As they're getting ready to go into hibernation, they'll sometimes move from one location to another," Augustine said. "Then we may see another influx."

Turtles are especially vulnerable, experts say, because they have a primitive sense of hearing and can't process sounds from oncoming traffic or honking horns. Flashing lights also won't get them to change course.

"That's not going to impact the turtle's judgment as far as whether it should or shouldn't be in the road," Luby said. "The turtle is en route to where it wants to go."

Augustine said motorists need to understand that just because something looks like a rock on the road doesn't necessarily mean it is.

"It's never a good idea for your car to aim for a rock," Augustine said. "So try and go around it if you're not sure what it is."

Luby said drivers who want to help a turtle shouldn't put themselves or others in danger by stopping abruptly or dashing across a busy road.

"Always consider people's personal safety first," Luby said.

If it's safe to help a turtle cross the road, Luby has an important reminder:

"Trust a turtle's instincts," he said. "It's going where it wants to go."

That means you should move a turtle only in the direction it was headed and then let it be on its way.

Turtles should never be turned around or taken to another location, Luby said.

"If it's a mom and she's heading up to nest, as soon as you move her back ... she's going to go right back out on the road," he said.

To move a turtle, pick it up with both hands, one on either side of the animal's body, experts said. Don't lift a turtle by its tail because that can damage its spinal cord.

Forest preserve officials say no one should ever pick up a snapping or spiny soft-shell turtle. Both are large species that can become aggressive and bite when handled.

Anyone who finds an injured turtle can consult Willowbrook Wildlife Center by calling at (630) 942-6200. Staff members are available to answer questions from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. An automated system provides information after hours.

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