Save the turtles! … even the snappy and ungrateful ones

Traveling along the backroads of Winterport a few days ago, I spotted a turtle in the road. I was headed to my father’s house for a Sunday cookout, and I was already late.

Nevertheless, my boyfriend Derek, who was driving at the time, slowed down and said, “Do you want to save it?”

He knows me well. So we turned around, parked on the shoulder of the road and hopped out. The situation reminded me of a story I wrote last spring about Maine’s endangered turtles and the state’s effort to save them.

Turtles often move from one body of water to another as they lay eggs and look for food, and often, they have to cross a road along the way. In fact, in some areas of the state, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife actually erects turtle crossing signs to caution drivers of the likelihood.

June 8, 2014, Winterport, Maine.

June 8, 2014, Winterport, Maine.

“A snapping turtle!” I exclaimed.

The ancient-looking creature was moving painstakingly slow on the paved road, unaware of the danger. As I kneeled down to take a few photos, it turned toward me and hissed.

“Don’t get too close, Aislinn,” Derek said in a worried tone.

As far as snapping turtles go, this one was small — its shell a bit larger than a frisbee. It didn’t seem dangerous to me.

Derek, watching for traffic, edged closer. “It might lunge at you,” he warned.

snappingturtle061214-2I giggled at the thought. A turtle, lunge? Yeah right. Look at its stubby little legs.

Then it did. It jumped a few inches off the ground, lunging at Derek, snapping at him — as snapping turtles are want to do.

Usually, when moving a turtle off a road, you simply herd it by walking slowly behind it. But in this case, the snapping turtle just faced us and stood its ground.

“I’ll get something from the car to move him,” Derek said reasonably. We weren’t about to pick the thing up. We didn’t know how, though I’m sure there’s a way to do it safely.

As Derek rummaged through the car, I inspected the turtle at a safe distance, noting its sharp long claws and its scaly tail — so prehistoric!

Derek returned with a collapsable metal shovel, which I keep in my car for emergencies, then started edging the turtle off the road. The idea was to gently push the turtle, like you’d push a puck along with a hockey stick. It sort of worked. The problem was, the turtle wasn’t happy, and it kept trying to bite the metal shovel. It actually caught the edge of the shovel a few times, resulting in a resounding ding! All I could think about was, “What if that were my finger?”

snappingturtle061214-3Eventually, we got the disgruntled reptile to the side of the road, the side to which he was headed when we first saw him. It’s important to put them on the side they’re faced towards. They know where they’re going — likely a pond or stream — so if you put them on the wrong side of the road and drive off, they’ll just try to cross the road again.

As soon as the snapping turtle touched the grass, he gave up the fight and scuttled into the vegetation. Mission accomplished.


Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at