How to Help a Turtle Across a Road

If you’ve ever seen a turtle crossing the road, you’ll help both the turtle and drivers if you can get it safely out of the way.

But first: If the turtle seems to be injured — for example, if it is bleeding or has a cracked shell from already being run over by a car — contact your local wildlife rehabilitator.

Many turtles will hide in their shells when you approach, but some may turn defensive. There are definitely turtles out there that can seriously injure you, so take a minute to do it right.

Make sure it’s safe for you to help

If the turtle is in the middle of a busy highway, don’t risk your life to help it. (This should go without saying, but we’re saying it anyway, just in case.)

If it’s safe and you’re stopping your car to render reptile aid, put on your flashers and stay alert. If you have a friend with you, ask them to keep an eye out for oncoming traffic.

Pick up the turtle by the back of the shell

Some turtles, including snapping turtles, have long enough necks they may be able to bite you if you simply pick them up by the middle of the shell. To stay safe, approach from behind.

Grab the turtle by the back of the shell. If the turtle is small to medium sized, you can slip a hand underneath it (again, from behind) and carry it to safety.

Don’t pick it up by the tail: A turtle’s spine runs from its neck, through its shell (it’s actually fused to the inside of the shell), to the tip of its tail. So, as this Toronto Zoo video points out, if you handle a turtle by its tail, you could dislocate its spine.

If the turtle is large and you can’t lift it from behind, you have other options, as shown in the video below. Here’s one: Grab a floor mat from your car (or any other handy flat, thin object), and drag the turtle onto it. Then, keeping your hand on the back of the turtle’s shell, drag the mat-turtle combo across the road.

Move the turtle in the direction it was going

Use a little logic here: Why did the turtle cross the road? To get to the other side. Often turtles are on the move because they’re trying to get to a place to lay eggs. If you move the turtle backwards, it may just try to cross the road again. Help your little friend out by moving it in the direction it wants to go.

For the same reason, don’t relocate the turtle to another area or take it home to be a pet. This is a wild animal with its own home and familiar neighbourhood; let it be.

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