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Dealing with snapping turtles

It's that time of year again in Vermont, the reptiles and amphibians are on the move! There are actually squadrons of people who help frogs, toads and salamanders cross the street on rainy nights, and I've made it a personal mission to help snakes and turtles avoid becoming street pizza. Snakes and small turtles are a piece of cake - pick 'em up or shoo 'em off. It's the larger snapping turtles that are a problem. The ones with 8-12" carapaces are light enough to pick up, although that's not my first choice! If they're crossing a dirt road or a "light-traffic" paved road, I stop on the side of the road with my four-way flashers on and direct traffic around the turtle. On busier roads, I grap them by the tail and hustle them to the other side of the street. Well, this past Friday, an ancient snapper decided to cross a heavily traveled three lane highway in South Burlington. This snapper was the biggest I've ever seen up here! It had a completely smooth, 14-16" long carapace, it's head was as big as a grapefruit, and it weighed about 25 pounds. Needless to say, I wanted to protect myself while helping him/her avoid becoming road kill. As I said, when I've absolutely had to move smaller snappers I've picked them up by the tail, and that's what I did on Friday, although it was an extremely difficult manouever. I had to hold my arm straight out from my shoulder to protect my legs and to keep the turtle from being dragged along the road. Now I'm reading that picking these beauties up by the tail can injure them. Is there any other/better way to accomplish this feat with such a large turtle? Thanks is advance for your help! Maggie

Wildlife Expert - Ken Burton


It's really heartening to hear from and about people like you! I wish there were more of you!

It doesn't surprise me that picking up such large animals by the tail can be harmful to them. The only other thing I can suggest is carrying a stout branch or other piece of wood that you could let them bite, then carry/drag them and hope they hang on. You could try also carrying one of those dollies like the auto mechanics use; lift the turtle onto that, even if by the tail, and then wheel it off the road. These are just thoughts and I'd be curious to know if you have any success with them.

The Northern Virginia Reptile Rescue says, "The best way to safely pick up a snapping turtle is to slide your hand beneath the bottom shell (plastron) and, supporting the plastron and top shell (carapace) lift the turtle straight up. DO NOT lift the turtle by its tail or limbs since this can cause severe irreversible damage to the spine or leg bones. A snow shovel may also be used to GENTLY scoop up the turtle and move it across the road. DO NOT slide the turtle on asphalt since this will cause road rash damage to the plastron." Still, road rash seems better than road smash if that's the choice.

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