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Slow and steady: Connecticut's snapping turtles brave roads for nesting season

A Snapping turtle lays eggs in an agricultural field in Washington Connecticut.
Dennis Quinn
A Snapping turtle lays eggs in an agricultural field in Washington, Connecticut. 

Why do snapping turtles cross Connecticut’s roads? The short answer: To get to the other side.

But there’s a specific reason — and season — that these turtles embark on this journey.

The large aquatic creatures can grow to over a foot long and have a prehistoric characteristic to their appearance, with big, clunky feet and spiky, long tails. They’re found across Connecticut and from May through June, the females seek the perfect sunny, sandy land for nesting.

This can be a risky trek for the snapping turtles’ rare journey from water: Connecticut’s roadways often cut through their path.

Any road system that's surrounded by water source, and natural habitat on either side, would likely have more snapping turtles, said Mike Ravesi, a wildlife biologist at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).

The death or injury of one of the adult turtles poses long-term issues for their population.

“They are long-lived, slow-to-reproduce animals,” Ravesi said. ”So it takes them sometimes a decade or more to reach sexual maturity. It can take a long time for those eggs that they produced to eventually result in additional adult turtles down the road.”

There are lower numbers of female turtles around the U.S. in general due to road fatalities, according to DEEP.

Ravesi’s work is focused on conservation of reptiles and amphibians. He said the creatures face various threats, from predators attacking their nests to habitat loss, and climate change.

“All these other factors exist and are reducing turtle numbers and they act in synergy with each other,” Ravesi said. “And roads are definitely part of that mix.”

Connecticut does allow recreational snapping turtle harvesting, but state law limits the size, amount and time of year that can occur. Commercial harvesting of the species has been banned in Connecticut since 2018.

So how can you help if you come across a turtle in the road? For starters, DEEP recommends driving defensively to avoid a fatality.

Then, if it’s safe to stop the vehicle, make note of which direction the turtle is heading so as not to backtrack its trek by accident. DEEP Wildlife Division doesn’t recommend moving the snapping turtles by hand — if it feels threatened, the turtles will stretch its neck out and bite.

“They get their name for a reason,” Ravesi said.

However, moving the turtle with a shovel, or “shooing” them to safety is an option. The state’s environmental police can also help — their 24-hour Emergency Dispatch Center can be reached at 860-424-3333.

As Connecticut Public's state government reporter, Michayla focuses on how policy decisions directly impact the state’s communities and livelihoods. She has been with Connecticut Public since February 2022, and before that was a producer and host for audio news outlets around New York state. When not on deadline, Michayla is probably outside with her rescue dog, Elphie. Thoughts? Jokes? Tips? Email msavitt@ctpublic.org.