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Early summer is the time of year when many turtles attempt to cross roadways in Otter Tail County. Drivers should be on the watch for turtles, and avoid hitting them. Tom Hintgen/FOCUS

Don’t tread on turtles: be aware of them crossing roadways during nesting season

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This is the time of year when many turtles cross roadways in Minnesota, including many in Otter Tail County. Early summer is when there’s nesting migration of egg-laden females.

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Helping turtles safely across roads, particularly females with eggs, is vital to the preservation of regional populations.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says the following important points should be remembered when people encounter a turtle in a roadway:

-Don’t put yourself or others in danger. Simply pulling off the road and turning on your hazard lights may alert other drivers to slow down. Be aware of your surroundings and traffic.

-Allow unassisted road crossings. When turtles can safely cross roads unaided due to a lack of oncoming traffic, allow them to do so. Observe from a distance and avoid rapid movements. Doing otherwise will often cause turtles to change direction, stop, or seek shelter within their shells.

-Handle turtles gently. If necessary to pick them up, all turtles except snappers and softshells should be grasped gently along the shell edge, near the mid-point of the body. Be advised that many turtles empty their bladders when lifted off the ground, so be careful not to drop them if they should suddenly expel water.

-Maintain direction of travel. Always move turtles in the same direction they were traveling when encountered. Turtles should always be moved across roadways in as direct a line as possible.

Roadway mortality, notes the Minnesota DNR, is believed to be a major factor in turtle population declines throughout the United States.

“Helping these typically inoffensive animals safely across roads is, therefore, an important and valuable contribution to the preservation of North American turtles,” says Jeffrey Lang, conservationist with the Minnesota DNR. “Turtles injured while trying to cross the road may be taken to your nearest wildlife rehabilitator.”

An additional safety note:

-Although many turtles attempt to bite when restrained, snapping turtles and spiny softshells (also referred to as leatherbacks), are particularly aggressive, surprisingly quick and will bite with little provocation. Exceptionally long necks enable them to reach around and deliver painful bites if picked up by the sides of the shell like other turtles.

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