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Turtles on the move

With summer travel in full swing motorists most likely have started seeing turtles moving across roadways.

Missouri Department of Conservation Agent Jacob Plunkett said he has already received a few calls of turtles in the roadway that were injured or hit.

“Obviously there isn’t a lot we could do for them once they are hit,” said Plunkett. “It’s mating season and turtles are coming out to the roads because they can see a lot further than being in the tall grass.”

Plunkett added everyone should be aware while driving and watch for turtles. He stressed not to cause a traffic accident by swerving into the other lane to avoid a turtle.

“The turtles can also cause damage to your vehicle, but just be careful,” said Plunkett. “During springtime in general there are a lot of critters out that are going to start moving, just like in the fall whenever deer start moving and getting hit.”

Turtles are looking for mates and breeding grounds or new territory. The conservation department suggests that drivers keep an extra watchful eye this time of year for turtles. Since they move so slowly, they are just kind of defenseless and it can obviously kill the turtle and also puncture tires and be dangerous for the drivers themselves.

Plunkett said it’s just a good idea to just drive slower because you never know what might pop up from the tall grass and into the road.

“If people can get the turtle off the roadway, please do, but don’t put yourselves in any danger,” Plunkett said. “Drivers just need to be extra mindful and keep their safety on the top of the list and other peoples safety. We don’t want them moving the turtles unless they are absolutely confident they are not going to put themselves or another vehicle that might be coming in danger.”

He added if anyone is able to move the turtle, just move to the other side of the road in the direction it was pointed. That is going to be the best thing for the turtle. Turtles spend their lives in an area the size of a football field and moving them from that area can put them in distress, giving them only a one percent chance of survival.

On June 21, 2007, the three-toed box turtle became the official state reptile for Missouri. Most Missourians are familiar with this land-dwelling turtle. Three-toed box turtles, as their name implies, typically have three hind toes. The hinged bottom shell allows the turtle to retreat inside as if enclosed in a box. Males have red eyes and females have brown eyes.

“Another issue we have is people wanting to take in what they believe to be orphaned wildlife,” said Plunkett. “That is probably one of the biggest issues we have this time of year and people mean well by doing it, but they see a baby fawn or a baby opossum and they pick it up and take it home.”

Plunkett said the mother is probably nearby watching them take their baby away. He added that once you take an animal out of the wild, putting them in captivity, they will never be able to go back out and survive in the wild.

“They will be too conditioned to humans,” said Plunkett. “They would have to spend their life in captivity.”

A lot of the different animals will actually hide their babies and then the mom or dad will leave. They will be gone most of the day to not draw attention to their babies. They will come back and feed them once or twice a day.

The conservation department asks that people just leave the wildlife alone. Don’t pick them up, don’t take them home or anything like that. Birds are a little bit different, a lot of people call them to say a baby bird fell out of its nest.

If it is a baby bird that is really small and can’t fly or anything, there is most likely a nest just above it. Chances are it just fell out, there is nothing wrong with picking that bird up to put it back in its nest. It is common for birds, especially owls, to push their young out of the nest when they get bigger. They are such big babies, if there are two or three in the nest there won’t be any room once they get a little older.

A mother owl will kick one or two of them out of the nest, but she will keep watching them and feeding them. She will fly down if something tries to get them or she will take food down to them. It’s just there is not enough room in the nest anymore.

“We do have a wildlife rehab in the county and they do a really good job,” said Plunkett. “It’s hard for some people to understand, but we can’t rehab everything. Sometimes it’s better in nature to let nature run its course.”

Plunkett stressed if anyone tries to take home baby wildlife to bottle feed it and they think they can return it to the wild, it is essentially killing it. He added they are going to put it back out in the wild and it’s not going to know how to survive at that point.

Signs that a wild animal needs your help

• Presented by a cat or dog

• Evidence of bleeding

• An apparent or obvious broken limb

• Featherless or nearly featherless and on the ground

• Shivering

• A dead parent nearby

• Crying and wandering all day long

If you see any of these signs, find help for the animal. If necessary, safely capture and transport her to the appropriate place for treatment.

Help Turtles Thrive in Our State

• Don’t collect turtles for pets. Wild animals deserve a natural life, and keeping them as pets can distress them to death.

• Don’t shoot turtles for fun. It’s illegal, and it pressures an already stressed group of animals.

• Report turtle poachers to Operation Game Thief (see link under Related Information below).

• Be careful when you drive, especially in spring and summer when turtles are mating, nesting, and dispersing.

• Create habitat areas around your home or farm. These include wooded and marshy areas.


• Turtles are no threat to game fish.

• Missouri has 17 kinds of turtles, and all but three are protected.

• Turtles are beneficial scavengers. They eat water plants, dead animals, snails, aquatic insects and crayfish.

• Swimmers should not fear turtle. They won’t bite unless picked up.

Drivers are asked to use caution and good judgment when encountering a turtle in the roadway.

Drivers are asked to use caution and good judgment when encountering a turtle in the roadway.

Renee Bronaugh is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3617 or

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