Feb 27 2009

Turtle Taxi

Here in northern New York, turtle time begins sometime in May and extends until the first snowflakes begin to fly. In more temperate parts of the country, turtle time is more extended. What does that mean? Turtles crossing roads, that’s what.

Bicyclists are in a good position to notice turtles in the road, and if you think sharing the road with juggernauts is dangerous for those of us on two wheels, think of it from the turtle’s point of view. In this photo below, I got down on my belly in the middle of the road just to see the view from a turtle’s level:

Turtle-eye View

Turtle’s view of the road

Not a great view, is it. Sadly, many turtles are crushed as they try to get from one side of the road to another. Some are killed outright, others are wounded and suffer lingering, agonizing deaths.

Bicyclists and turtles are a lot alike—both are pretty darned small and soft compared to motor vehicles, and both move a lot more slowly than petrol-powered juggernauts. Maybe that’s why we cyclists commonly stop to help turtles cross roads. I suppose you could…

Call Us Turtle Taxies  Taxies ferry people from where they are to where they want to go. Those of us who help turtles safely reach their destinations are, therefore, turtle taxies. To be a turtle taxi you have to know how to do it right. That entails learning how to do the job so no one gets hurt. The job description demands that turtle taxies:

  • Always be safe
  • Handle turtles so they and you are not injured
  • Take turtles to the right destinations
  • Learn what to do for injured turtles

Be Safe  Firstly, you’re doing no one any good at all if you endanger yourself. Always beware of traffic and do not step in front of moving vehicles. Seems a no-brainer, doesn’t it, but in the heat of the moment it’s all too easy to overlook oncoming traffic.

Handle Turtles Properly  It’s possible to pick up the largest snapping turtle without hurting him and without him hurting you. But to do so you need to learn where to grasp and lift turtles. Firmly but gently use with both hands to grasp turtles between their front and rear legs as shown in the photo at the head of this article. The turtle’s head should face away from you. Hold the turtle away from you, and as you cross the road, keep the turtle low to the ground in case he struggles free. Another very important thing to remember is to never lift turtles by the tail! Lifting turtles by their tails can cause spinal cord injuries which leave them paralyzed.

Where to Take Turtles?  Turtles deliberately cross roads for a variety of reasons, and know exactly where they want to go. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy for us to know what’s on their minds, though. The best policy is to take the turtle to the side of the road which she’s facing, and leave her safely off the shoulder.

Helping Injured Turtles  Injured turtles can be given a new lease on life if placed in trained, caring hands. What do you do? Gently lift the injured turtle without any unnecessary movement of the broken but attached shell pieces—this is to prevent any further damage. Put the turtle in a dark container which will allow air to get inside. Collect any larger shell pieces which have been broken off the turtle, and place them in something which will keep them safe and as whole as possible. Contact a wildlife rehabilitator and she will take it from there. Find a rehabber by contacting your state fish and game department, or visit “How to Locate a Wildlife Rehabilitator” online. Do it now.

Become a Turtle Taxi!  Why not join in? As you ride your bike during turtle season—that’s anytime between spring thaw and winter freeze—keep your eyes peeled for turtles trying to get safely to their destinations. Take a few minutes to help them across. Does it matter? Sure does, to that turtle you save, and to all the future generations of turtles. And it makes a difference to you, too, because it feels great to save the turtles.

Build the Turtle Portrait Gallery  If you can, after helping a turtle reach safety, take a picture of him or her and send a copy to us here at Outside Up North. Tell us your story, and we’ll publish your turtle picture in our “Turtle Portrait Gallery.” Check it out—every one of those turtles has a new lease on life because a turtle taxi took the time to help.

Learn More About Helping Turtles  Read more detailed instructions and other important facts in “Help Turtles Cross Roads,” compiled with the assistance of turtle expert and rehabilitator Kathy Michell of the New York Center for Turtle Rehabilitation and Conservation, Inc. Her excellent advice made it possible for me to safely offer taxi services to several very large snapping turtles last year, and her husband Tom’s wonderful photos illustrate the right way to lift them.

Check Our Quick Guide to Turtle Taxi Technique  It won’t take long to check out our Printable Quick Guide, which tells how to safely lift and transport turtles to the other side of the road. Print our one-page guide and carry it with you. Better yet, print out several and hand them around to your friends! The turtles will thank you, each and every one of them.

A special thanks to everyone who has participated so far in helping turtles. Bicyclists from all over the country have already jumped aboard to become turtle taxies, and their enthusiasm is encouraging. Of course, anyone can become a turtle taxi, whether they’re on a bike, on foot, or even in a motor vehicle. The more of us who keep our eyes open for turtles in need of a lift, the better. So, jump aboard, and become a turtle taxi, whoever you are! These guys thank you:

Saved Turtles



Further Reading

Questions? Comments? Just click here!