Have you ever seen a turtle on the road? I’ve lost count of the number of turtles I’ve found over the years.
During one of my previous contracts, I worked as a Freshwater Turtle Road Ecology Technician with the Freshwater Turtle Specialist, David Seburn, at the Canadian Wildlife Federation. Our recent paper asks the question, “Do turtle warning signs reduce roadkill?”
The Canadian Wildlife Federation Turtle Team surveyed roads in the Ottawa area once a week and recorded the turtles we found on those roads. There were a few areas along a provincial highway that Dave and his team had identified as ‘hotspots’, or high-density areas of roadkill, the previous summer. The Ontario Ministry of Transportation installed turtle warning signs, like the one below, at these hotspots and we continued to survey the road as well as a nearby road that also had hotspots, but no turtle warning signs.
Ministry of Transportation turtle warning sign installed at a roadkill hotspot along a provincial highway in Ontario. Photo by David Seburn.
Species at Risk (Endangered) Blanding’s turtle nesting on the gravel shoulder of a road in Ontario. Photo by Hannah McCurdy-Adams as she guarded the turtle until her nest was complete and she was safely off the road.
We had collected data before and after the signs were installed along the provincial highway and a nearby road without signs, to control for the natural fluctuation of roadkill between years. With that dataset, we could assess the effectiveness of the signs at reducing roadkill.
There was no significant decrease in the amount of roadkill after the signs were installed.
Wildlife fencing leading animals to crossing structures, such as culverts, have been proven to effectively reduce roadkill and this study helps build the evidence-based argument that signs cannot be relied on for this goal.
Signs can, however, be used as an awareness tool in a comprehensive strategy to educate more people about the issue of roadkill. Signs may also be more effective on roads with lower speed limits and traffic volumes, but more research is required to say that with confidence.
Species at Risk (Endangered) Blanding’s turtle on the side of a road in Ontario. Photo by Hannah McCurdy-Adams.
What can you do to help a turtle across the road?
If you find a turtle on the road, consider giving it a helping hand in the direction it was traveling. The turtle knows where it wants to go, so it’s best to help it along its way rather than try to move it somewhere else. If it is safe to do so, pull completely off the road, park your vehicle, and put your 4-way hazard lights on. Carefully exit your car if there are no other vehicles around and put on a safety vest, if you have one. Most turtles can be firmly picked up by the sides of their shell and carried across the road. There are some turtles, such as snapping turtles, that need a more careful handling approach, like the one described in the video below. If you are uncomfortable picking up a turtle with your hands, you can pick them up with a snow shovel or get them on your car mat and drag the mat.
Toronto Zoo’s Adopt-A-Pond created this video to show a few different ways you can help a snapping turtle cross the road.
If the turtle is injured, call your local wildlife rehabilitator. You could help a turtle, like the one below, get treatment and be released back to where it came from.
Species at Risk (Special Concern) Midland painted turtle found injured on the side of a road in Ontario, sent to a wildlife rehabilitator for a few months, and released back to where it came from. Photos by Hannah McCurdy-Adams.