The Boys Are Back in Town

But, should they be? Is it too soon?

In other articles I have posted on other sites I have discussed the strange weather we are having this winter and how it may be effecting coastal wildlife. Recently I was driving highway 98 on the west side of the county heading to a meeting on Perdido Key. Low and behold, there was a box turtle trying to cross the road. I pulled over (more on safety tips for doing in a second); to assist the animal across the road… it was a male. Now we know why MOST males would cross the road – there are other reasons – but could it be that “spring was in the air” and he was looking for his bonnie lass? Maybe.

A male Gulf Coast Box Turtle makes it safely across a busy highway in Escambia County.
Photo: Rick O’Connor

According to the Biology and Conservation of Florida Turtles, box turtles are active year round in the peninsular portion of our state – but not in the northern portion. Where it is colder, they tend to be active from March to October, becoming dormant afterwards. Warm temperature of excessive flooding will force them to move “out of season” but otherwise, they lay low for the winter. As far breeding season, it aligns with their active season – March to October. Researchers have observed them breeding throughout this active period. But here was this male box turtle heading across highway 98… in February. Could these 80°F days have them moving sooner than we expected? Are other species of turtles beginning to move and think about spring? Should I move my terrapin survey trainings from April to March? Will we miss the nesting season because we waited until “they were supposed to nest” before we survey? I am not sure, but if they are beginning to move now we need to be careful while on the roads.


Now, to the discussion on safely helping a turtle cross the road. I have four basic rules on this.

  1. Your safety first. You would be surprised how many Floridians are hurt (or even killed) trying to help turtles cross highways. You see a turtle crossing the road, you think “dear Lord” and you pull over and jump out to remove it from the highway. Many times your choice parking locations is not the safest; people will open doors into oncoming traffic – not thinking really. How do I know? I have done it. You lose your head for a moment. You should find a safe location to park and watch for traffic while assisting the turtle.
  2. They will bite. Turtles do not have teeth but they can bite. Some species are a little feistier than others are, but you should handle the turtle in a way that you hand is out of reach. Also be aware that they often urinate when picked up – they are scared, so be ready for that.
  3. Snappers and Softshells can reach you. Snappers and softshell turtles have very long necks and your hand is probably in range. I recommend using a stick, board, something other than you hand to move them out of the road. Snappers will literally lunge at you, so be ready for that. Do not attempt to handle these turtles unless you know what you are doing. Both can deliver a nasty bite.
  4. Take them to the side of the road they were heading. They were heading that way for some reason, and will again if you put them back where they came from.

Again, think about your safety first. I hate to lose any wildlife on roads but losing humans is much worse. Keep your eyes out for early moving coastal wildlife as we move towards spring… leaving the colder months of January and February behind.

Holding a turtle near the rear of the carapace can keep your fingers out of range of the turtle’s mouth. As the article mentions, this does not work for all species – so be careful.
Photo: Rick O’Connor

Posted: February 28, 2017

Category: Coasts & Marine
Tags: Box Turtles, Climate Change, Coastal Wildlife

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