Southwest Florida is known for its fabulous wildlife, and despite the many refuges, reserves, parks and preserves nearby, wild animals need to move around to find food, shelter and mates, and frequently come dangerously close to human activity along our roadways. While many species are generally quick enough to avoid vehicles, turtles are a different story.
Florida has many kinds of turtles using a variety of habitats. Freshwater turtles are aquatic reptiles that are found in ponds, lakes and canals with aquatic plants and logs or rocks for basking. Many species of freshwater turtle can be found in our area, including mud turtles, softshell turtles, cooters and sliders.
Most of these species are considered “local migrants”, meaning their territory expands when summer rains form ponds in low areas transforming them into temporary new foraging grounds. As water levels drop with the arrival of the winter dry season, instincts tell turtles to return to a deeper, more reliable water body. With many wetlands drying up due to development, and more and more new roads popping up across our landscape, this pattern can spell disaster.
Turtles are known for their slow pace and hardly stand a chance of avoiding traffic on most roadways. If they do get across safely, their next challenge is often as difficult: scaling the curb. Because their short legs and inflexible shell makes it nearly impossible to get over curbs, turtles often wander along the curb searching for an access point to their desired pond or lake, however they frequently find something even more perilous than the road: the storm drain.
If you encounter a turtle crossing the road, help it only if it is safe for you to do so. Here are some tips:
- Pull completely off the road, and signal other motorists (if traffic is light) to slow down.
- Although turtles don’t have teeth, they can bite, so keeping a set of gloves in your glove box or trunk is helpful if it becomes necessary to physically move one.
- Always move the turtle in the direction it was traveling, or else it will attempt to cross the street again after you leave.
- Carry a small box or bag with you in the event a turtle or other animal requires transport to medical care.
Being alert while driving is the best way to keep everyone safe on our roadways, but sometimes wildlife encounters cannot be avoided. Turtles injured on the road can sometimes be rehabilitated at one of several wildlife rehabilitation centers in our area. For more information about how you can help injured wildlife, contact the Calusa Nature Center or CROW in Ft. Myers, or the Conservancy of SW Florida in Naples.