Braking for turtles: Officials urge motorists to drive carefully as reptiles cross Missouri roads

Sara Karnes
Springfield News-Leader
A Missouri three-toed box turtle freezes in midstride while crossing a road.

There may not be any reptile crossing signs posted, but turtles will be more visible as the weather warms.

Missouri Department of Conservation officials are urging the public to be cautious on the roads this spring and "give turtles a brake," the department said via news release.

"These reptiles are often hit by cars during the warmer months, but are at special risk this time of year because they are more active," according to a news release.

The turtles spotted crossing Missouri roads are three-toed box turtles, ornate box turtles and snapping turtles. Most Missouri turtles can live up to 30 years, but the common box turtle can live up to 80, occasionally living more than a century, according to MDC.

"Turtles emerge from their burrows and begin the hunt for food and mates during warm and wet conditions, which can lead them to cross roadways, oftentimes resulting in their death," MDC stated.

These shelled reptiles are cold-blooded creatures and depend on external sources of heat to regulate their body temperature, which is why people may see them on warm asphalt during cooler days.

Thousands of box turtles are killed every year by vehicles, according to MDC. Young males make up most of the explorers and can travel as many as six miles searching for territories and mates. Females also cross the roads in search of nesting areas.

"Vehicles are one of the leading factors in box turtle declines, and MDC urges motorists to be cautious and slow down when they see a turtle in the road," the news release stated. "If helping a turtle make it safely across, check for traffic and move the turtle across the road in the direction it is traveling."

Missourians should leave turtles in the wild.

"Taking a wild animal, whether a turtle or other wildlife species and keeping it as a pet normally ends in a slow death," MDC warned. "Leave turtles in the wild, follow the speed limit and keep your eyes on the road."

For more information on Missouri’s turtles, visit the MDC online Field Guide at nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/search/turtle.

Sara Karnes is an Outdoors Reporter with the Springfield News-Leader. Follow along with her adventures on Twitter and Instagram @Sara_Karnes. Got a story to tell? Email her at skarnes@springfi.gannett.com.