Why Did the Turtle Cross the Road in Jersey? To Nest, of Course!
It's turtle nesting season in New Jersey and that means the hard-shelled creatures are at risk of being struck by cars as they cross busy roadways statewide. From May to July (after mating season ends), adult females internally incubate their eggs. They then find safe places to nest, which often times takes them across busy highways.
Brian Zarate, senior zoologist with the state Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Fish and Wildlife, advises motorists to please be aware and vigilant of turtles. Drive slow in areas that you think are high volume areas for turtle crossings.
"If you do see a turtle in the roadway, if there's a really safe opportunity to move over onto the shoulder of the road, put your flashers on, get out and move that turtle to the side of the road in the direction it was going, that's really great, really appreciated," says Zarate.
He says counties and towns are doing things to help protect the nesting turtles from getting struck by cars. One option is signage that alerts drivers. He says it could be a permanent sign that says "Turtle Crossing" or it could be a seasonal sign that's just out when there's higher probability times of turtles crossing.
Another option that has just been implemented in New Jersey is turtle fencing and under-road tunnels. A tunnel would be constructed under a roadway that is specific for that turtle's needs and also put up some fencing that keeps them off the road and also guides them to the tunnel.
Zarate says turtle crossing at this time of year is a statewide problem but down in parts of southern New Jersey, the Northern Diamondback Terrapins are moving in pretty large numbers across roadways to try and nest.
But he says in other places, there may be a couple of turtle species trying to move per season across a roadway. However, they may be the very last two turtles in that area so there is concern.
Besides the northern diamondback terrapin in South Jersey, the most common turtle species you may see in Central and North Jersey at this time of year are the eastern painted turtle, the snapping turtle and the eastern box turtle.
"We have a really neat diversity of turtle species in New Jersey and, unfortunately, we've got a lot of fragmented habitat in New Jersey. These turtles need to move around and when they need to do that, often times, it puts them in dangerous situations," says Zarate.
He adds we should keep in mind when we're traveling the busy roadways that turtles may be crossing and we should help them whenever we can.