Why did the turtle cross the road? No, this isn't the start of a bad joke — it's a serious problem for turtles at this time of year as they risk their lives crossing Minnesota's roads while looking for love.
"Right now, turtles are about as frisky as turtles ever get," says the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota on its Facebook page.
As they move to find their breeding areas, more turtles are being hit by cars and the center has been busy repairing dozens of cracked turtle shells.
The WRC has seen about 30 injured turtles so far this spring and expects to see more through July. Last year, the WRC cared for 262 turtles with cracked shells. A cracked shell is painful for a turtle, so they're often put on pain medication and anesthesia for the shell repair surgery.
These are "troubled turtle times," according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Roadway mortality is believed to be a major factor in turtle population decline throughout the United States.
Helping these turtles cross the road is an important job and Minnesota drivers can help. First things first? Drive less like a hare and more like a turtle.
Here's what you can do to help a turtle cross a road:
1. Pull off the road and turn on your hazard lights to alert other drivers to slow down.
2. Avoid excessive handling, which can disrupt normal behavior. Don't do a prolonged examination of the turtle.
3. When turtles can safely cross roads unaided due to a lack of oncoming traffic, allow them to do so. Observe them from a distance and avoid rapid movements, which will often cause turtles to change direction, stop, or seek shelter within their shells.
4. If necessary, pick up the turtle (except snappers and softshells) gently along the shell edge near the midpoint of the body. Beware: many turtles empty their bladder when lifted off the ground, so be careful not to drop them. For snapping turtles, handle with a rubber floormat, a stick or a snow shovel.
5. Always move turtles in the same direction they were traveling. Do not move them to a nearby body of water.
6. Document your find. Help the DNR document turtle crossing and mortality areas by participating in the Minnesota Turtle Crossing Tally & Count Project (herpmapper.org/content/pdf/mn-turtles-and-roads-project.pdf).
7. If you find an injured turtle, bring it to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Roseville. Even if it can't be saved, the center can humanely euthanize them, whereas they can take several days to die on their own.