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Minnesota Roads Taking Toll on Turtles

04/08/2015 9:14 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Minnesota Roads Taking Toll on Turtles

HerpMapper, a new mapping application, helps to prove it.

Submitted by Cheryl Wilke

Roads have been an issue for turtles for as long as vehicles have been around. The density of roads and cars has increased to a point where this hazard is impacting the long-term survival of some Minnesota turtle populations. Fortunately, there are relatively simple road improvements and habitat modifications that can be made to reduce the number of turtles crossing roads.  These range from dedicated wildlife underpasses, modified culverts, wildlife-friendly curbs, and fences to enhanced nesting habitat. These mitigation efforts, however, can be expensive and are not always embraced by highway departments.

The most effective way to communicate to highway departments the need for protection is tangible evidence showing which road stretches have a significant number of turtle crossings. Because State and County biologists cannot collect enough information to identify all of the significant crossings, public volunteers play a critical role in providing that data. 

Do not put yourself in harm’s way to protect or document turtles

 or other wildlife observed on a roadway.


HerpMapper, an online mapping and mobile phone application sponsored by HerpMapper, Minnesota Herpetological Society, and Three Rivers Park District, allows adult volunteers to submit locations of turtle crossings via your computer through the Herpmapper.org website; or by using HerpMapper’s Mobile Mapper application on your smartphone or tablet. Easy step-by-step instructions to create a HerpMapper account are provided at http://www.herpmapper.org/register


In Minnesota, where all turtles are mainly aquatic, overland journeys usually occur during the annual early summer (late-May and June) nesting migration of egg laden females, or when newly hatched youngsters seek out the backwaters and ponds that will serve as their permanent home. Migration, again, occurs in early autumn when they return to deeper waters for winter hibernation.


Data collected will be used to generate maps of known turtle crossing areas that can be shared with and used by conservation agencies and highway departments to prioritize and develop safer crossing areas. In addition, data can be collected in areas after mitigation strategies are put into place to better determine their efficacy.


In June 2014, the Washington County Parks Department and Public Works opened a new “turtle tunnel” to help migrating turtles safely cross the road. The special German-built, under-the-road tunnel on County Highway 4 near Big Marine Lake in May Township, funnels turtles to the two-foot wide turtle tunnel by fences on both sides of the highway. County officials chose the tunnel’s location based on Minnesota Herpetological Society’s documentation of a large number of turtle crossings dangerous to both turtles and motorists, who were stopping on the two-lane highway to avoid hitting them. The Minnesota DNR says helping turtles, particularly females with eggs, safely cross roads is vital to the preservation of Minnesota’s turtle populations.  The tunnel is already a success.  The Minnesota DNR Nongame Wildlife Program has been posting photos on their Facebook page from a motion camera installed in the tunnels.  Turtles, frogs, skinks, woodchucks, ermine, and many other creatures have been using the tunnel to safely cross under the road!

How can YOU help a turtle cross the road?

                  Don’t endanger yourself or others. When and where possible, pull off the road. Turn on hazard lights to alert other drivers to slow down. Be aware of your surroundings and traffic.

                  Allow turtle to cross on its own. If there is no oncoming traffic, allow turtle to cross unassisted.

                  If you need to speed up the turtle’s crossing, grasp it and all turtles, EXCEPT snapping turtles, gently along the shell edge near mid-point of body. (Note: turtles may empty bladder when lifted off ground. Don’t drop it.)

                  Snapping turtles should NEVER be picked up by the tail. This can damage the snapping turtle’s spinal cord. Use a branch, broomstick, or snow shovel to prod the animal along from behind. If the turtle bites the object, use it to drag the turtle to roadway edge.

          Maintain direction of travel. Move turtle low to the ground, in a direct line, and in the same direction it was traveling. Do NOT remove it from its area of habitat.

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