Why Did the Turtle Cross the Road?

Why Did the Turtle Cross the Road?

To get to the other side of course!

You often see snapping turtles cross the road during their nesting season May to mid-July. Female snapping turtles are looking for just the right place to find a mate and make their nest. Turtles are attracted to the gravel shoulders of roads to lay their eggs. It’s easy to dig and the sun keeps the nest warm.

Unfortunately, snapping turtles face dangers as they cross the road.
Baby Snapping Turtle on Road
Habitat destruction combined with high mortality rates from crossing roads are significant causes of their population decline. A recent study estimates some turtle species in Ontario may decline by 50 per cent over the next three generations due to road mortality.

Even though female snapping turtles lay 20 to 40 eggs at a time, only one per cent of eggs survive to adulthood. While natural predators such as skunks and raccoons feed on eggs, road mortality is impacting turtle numbers. In Ontario, Common Snapping turtles are listed as a species at risk. In fact, seven of eight turtle species in the province are species at risk.

You can help turtles as they cross the road.

Be on the lookout for turtles while driving. They often look like oil slicks or bumps. Keep the following in mind and always consider your own safety first.

Female Snapping Turtle Nesting

  1. If you see a turtle, slow down. Give it space when passing. You can also turn on your hazard lights to alert other motorists.
  1. If it’s safe, help it across in the direction it’s travelling. Learn the proper techniques and get safety tips from the Canadian Wildlife Federation.
  1. If a female is actively nesting (digging a hole with her hind feet), let her be.
  1. If you find an injured turtle, gently move it off the road into a shaded spot. Do not pour water on the animal. Call the Ontario Turtle Conservation Center or your local wildlife rehabilitation facility for professional advice.

Ontario is the turtle diversity hotspot of Canada. We are home to eight species of freshwater turtles. In the Credit River Watershed there are four native turtle species: Common Snapping, Midland Painted, Blanding’s and Northern Map. You can also find the invasive Red-eared Slider.

Help keep turtles safe. Keep an eye out over the next few weeks while driving.  Turtles are most likely to be crossing roads near wetlands, streams and ponds.

8 Comment
  • Sally Holt says:

    I have turtles crossing from my pond to the Credit Ryan year. How do I obtain a”turtle crossing” sign ?

  • Dianne says:

    I would appreciate your opinion on the impact Calcium Chloride (CaCl2) has in our turtle population, especially during their nesting season. The dirt roads in Caledon use this caustic liquid and it corrodes our vehicles…I can’t imagine what it does to the at risk turtle population?
    Thank you for your response.

  • Alice Casselman says:

    Thanks for the reminder that the season is here!

    Have seen the female laying eggs next to sidewalk in June – might even find the close up photo taken !


    • That’s wonderful! You can report sightings to local CA’s, municipalities and varies apps such as iNaturalist and the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas, Toronto Zoo Turtle Tally / Adopt a Pond programs. Data collected can then be used by researchers, scientists, ecologists and planners.

  • Karen Smith says:

    We have a female snapper who has been trying to lay her eggs on the side of the road between Shaw’s Creek & Winstonchurchill. A bunch of cars stopped & I’m not sure what the people did to her. I haven’t seen her since. I hope they did her no harm—just took photos from a distance! I’ll wait & watch for babies in Sept.
    We need a turtle crossing sign, please.

    • Female turtles can sometimes take quite a while to find just the right spot to lay her eggs. Females may begin digging a nest hole only to abandon it and move onto a new hole if something wasn’t just right about the first one. She could do this over the course of several nights/days (turtles prefer to lay in low light conditions). This can result in turtles being along the roadside for quite a while, which can attract a crowd of people. It is important to note that if a turtle is on the side of the road digging a hole she should be left alone to finish her hard work. Disturbing her can cause her to use up important energy stores she needs for egg laying. Turtles not in immediate danger should not be approached or handled. Sometimes females will be seen walking up and down the shoulder of the road, often confusing on-lookers who want to help her cross the road but are unable to determine which way she wants to go!

      Common Snapping turtles can also draw a crowd simply because they are snapping turtles and many people do not know or feel comfortable moving them, so they stand by to watch or direct traffic around her – this can cause even more curious onlookers to stop. If you suspect illegal or suspicious activity (e.g. egg collection, turtle harvesting for consumption or pets) you should contact your local MNRF office or the MNRF TIPS line at 1-877-847-7667 – this number is also still being used for Species at Risk reporting even though SAR is now under jurisdiction of MECP (https://www.ontario.ca/page/solve-natural-resource-case). You can contact your local municipality to install road signs. Most municipalities are open to installing them (or can give you permission to install your own) but often times don’t know where to install them, this is why it is important for the public to submit sightings of locations where turtles cross! Also see https://ontarioturtle.ca/2009/05/turtle-crossing-signs/ and http://www.torontozoo.com/adoptapond/turtleresources.asp?opx=3

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