Biologists: egg-laying turtles vulnerable on roadways
Think of “turtle” and most people think “slow.”
So for these ancient reptiles, trying to cross a highway — such as Route 5 below Songo Pond in Albany — can be deadly.
This time of year the females of many local turtle species are leaving their ponds and rivers in search of a warm, sandy spot to lay their eggs.
To find the right spot, many are forced to cross highways. That is the case for the turtles of Songo Pond and the Crooked River, which begins at the pond.
During the last week in May, about a tenth of a mile south of Songo, one observer traveling the road observed a half dozen of the reptiles trying to cross Route 5.
Several were snapping turtles. One was a painted turtle, the most commonly observed species in area ponds. But there was also a wood turtle, which is spotted much less frequently.
In some cases, the females will dig a hole and lay their eggs in the sandy shoulder of the road.
But whatever the turtles’ plans, state wildlife biologists hope motorists will slow down and keep an eye out during the egg-laying season.
The season typically extends from late May to early July, according to wildlife biologists from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
And in the words of a recent IFW press release, “there is probably no group of organisms in Maine for which roads represent a more serious threat to long-term population viability than turtles.”
Any area near a pond or river may see turtle traffic. In her Gilead column in this week’s Citizen, Lin Chapman notes that someone observed a dead snapping turtle along Route 2 in Bethel, near the cloverleaf overpass.
Nearby, Mill Brook flows into the Androscoggin River.
IFW said if drivers come across a live turtle on the road and want to help, “state biologists advise pulling over and moving the turtle to the side of the road it was headed, if it is safe to do so.”
IFW biologist Jonathan Mays said concerned citizens have sometimes attempted to create and maintain sandy nesting sites in safe locations near where turtles leave the water, “with mixed results.”
“Folks have had some success creating artificial nesting habitat that turtles actually use,” he said. “However, there are also numerous examples of turtles passing close by, seemingly sufficient nesting grounds only to travel great distances and wander across multiple roads.”
For anyone interested in helping biologists map the travels of turtles (or any other wildlife crossing our roads), an online informational and reporting website has been created at www.wildlifecrossing.net/maine.