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"Paw, why do the little box turtles try to cross the road? Can we help them?"


Andy: "Well Opie, why do the little box turtles cross the road? I'd say I never really thought 'bout it much but now you asked...I don't really know why they cross the road."

Opie: "Well maybe Gommer knows, paw. How 'bout it Gommer, maybe you know why the little box turtles cross the road? They just git squished!"

Gommer: "Shazam, Opie! 'Course I know why."

Andy: "Really Gommer! Well then Gommer why don't you tell Opie why the little box turtles cross the road!"

Gommer: "G-o-o-o-l-l-l-i-e Andy, everybody knows that the little ole box turtles cross the road to git to the Shell Station! Least ways that's what Sergeant Carter told me! Isn't that right Barnie?"

Barnie: "Leave me outa this, just leeeave meee outa this I told Opie, I just ran one over this morning with the cruiser...Andy, he came outa nowhere, Andy, I didn't even see 'm...but I heard a crack an' I looked in the the rear view mirror ...and then I saw him, Andy...he was squished Andy, flat as a pancake, Andy...flat as one o' Aunt Bea's pancakes right off the griddle, there it was in the road, flat as one o" Aunt Bea's pancakes ...terrrible... Andy, it was just terrible!"

...flat as one o' Aunt Bea's pancakes right off the griddle!!

...flat as one o' Aunt Bea's pancakes right off the griddle!!

I hope that fantasy episode has caught your attention and maybe tickled your funny bone! The rest of this hub page is lengthy so if you are not really interested in box turtles skip to the video at the end just in case you come across a snapping turtle crossing a road you are on. CIAO!

Now maybe you've seen a box turtle crossing a road knowing how it was going to end for the turtle but too busy to give it a second thought...perhaps thinking, oh well, there is nothing that can be done for these dumb animals anyway, or maybe you have witnessed one of the "gifted" road warrior rocket scientists who swerve to purposely run the animal over (I have).

Well, whoever you are I'm glad you are reading this and hope that you are ready to be enlightened as to the plight of these amazing little animals that eat worms and can live to be a hundred spending all those years in a 2 - 4 acre home range. Eastern Box Turtles are a terrestrial speciesof turtle that among other things is unique in that their plastron or bottom shell is hinged and they can close up tight like a box!


For a glimpse into the dark, dark nature of some members of the Homo Sapiens species read about a student who set out to discover how we can help turtles crossing the road. Go to: Turtles de-shell shocking human nature

Want to be a Citizen Scientist ?

You can help with the Piedmont Wildlife Center Box Turtle Connection study!

If you find a LIVE or DEAD Box Turtle in your backyard or anywhere else you can help!

  • All you have to do is:
  1. Take pictures like the two shown right.
  2. Send the pictures and your address (or GPS location) to:
  3. Fill out the data sheet, found HERE.
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Box turtle habitats have become fragmented throughout the eastern United States due to road and real estate development. In these type of areas the populations of box turtles are so sensitive to the loss of adults that, according to modeling studiesof Dr. Richard Seigel of Towson University, losing just three box turtles from a population of 50 females and 50 males could doom that population to an irreversible slow decline and eventually extinction.

Studies show most box turtles don't make it to the eight or so years needed to mature to breeding age: Domestic cats and dogs, foxes, raccoons, skunks, crows, turkeys, opossums, and other animals love to eat turtle eggs and young turtles because their shells are not yet hard enough for much protection. Any turtles that do survive have to contend with roads and increasing loss of their habitats to real estate development, which consequently brings more roads, more cats and dogs, and more people who like to remove turtles from the wild, hoping they will make good pets. A wild female box turtle might live 50 or more years and every one of those years is crucial to ensure that, of the 2 to 6 eggs she may lay a year, at least one of her young will survive to adulthood and replace her in the population.

  • How You Can Help Wildlife At Home
    To survive wildlife needs shelter, water, food and space. To help make your land able to be a home for many different wildlife species here are things you can do.
  • Mowers and Box Turtles
    FACT: Every year myriads of box turtles are kiled and maimed by mowing machines. Sadly mower operators likely have no idea that turtles are even present where they mow. Adopting any of these 5 measures will help you prevent unnecessary EBT deaths!
  • Box Turtle Relocation Studies Many studies have indicated that box turtles that are relocated away from their home range seldom prosper and often die shortly after being relocated. Here are some studies.
Must be 18 or older to view this one.

Must be 18 or older to view this one.

Could it be that when foraging for food color is important? Fact is yellows and reds are their favorite! They are attracted by bright yellow stripes on streets and go for them. No doubt they think they are flowers. If the Department of Transportation would use orange or white stripes, the box turtle population could skyrocket.

So what can one do when one sees a box turtle crossing the road?

Turtle "experts" will tell you to place the box turtle on the side of the road in the direction it was heading. My understanding of that point of view requires one to approach it this way...if you remove an animal from the wild, you guarantee extinction of this individual, its progeny, and its progeny's progeny in that population. If you move it to the other side of the road, it has a chance to remain in the wild population and survive and multiply. Even if it is run over in subsequent years, there will be a chance some of its progeny could survive, and of course some of its progeny's progeny. Therefore for the purposes of wild populations, leaving the animal will provide the best chance to keep population numbers high as possible. Will you see the animal squished on the road later? Yes, that is possible, but it may be worth the sacrifice in the long run for the population if it in the meantime has had the chance to produce young.

Sounds reasonable? Sure, the first time I heard this conventional wisdom from the "experts" I thought it made sense too...until I studied this species, and then thought for myself. Sadly, whoever first came up with such a blanket conclusion to place the box turtle on the other side of the road in the direction it was heading did not think this through and in many cases has mislead the good Samaritan to doom the animal to a premature death (in which case no progeny are produced and even if the turtle were to live long enough to breed the progeny would most likely encounter the same end long before ever reaching reproductive maturity 8 - 10 years). If this conventional "wisdom" was always the best advice, we would not find areas throughout the United States where large populations of box turtles disappeared in one generation (50 - 100 years) once roads went in. But, I have to say I do agree with this approach IF ...... the road is out in the country and little traveled or in the wild, a road where it is likely a turtle could cross before any cars come along. and not a relatively recent (last 50 years or so) result of ongoing development in the area. The latter is where the most people will encounter the most box turtles crossing a road and that leads me to why I disagree with the conventional "wisdom" in most cases.

First of all, let's consider the obvious: Just because a turtle is pointed in one direction upon your arrival doesn't mean the direction in which the turtle was headed is the same - turtles can be hit or spun around unhurt, even flipped or they freeze, closed up and fearful of the traffic whizzing by. I've seen turtles on more than one occasion get in the road and turn around because of fear of the traffic. Only if you could watch them as they approach the road can you say for sure which way they were originally headed.

Much of a Box Turtle's life is spent buried under leaves and in the fauna only to come out during and after rains so they can rehydrate. This is also when they will forage for insects and worms brought out by the rain. They often follow drainage ditches(many drainage gullies are along roads) and vernal ponds which temporarily fill with rainwater. Studies have also suggested Box Turtles navigate by the sun to find their home range so a long rain with constant cloud cover obscuring a view of the sun for days can cause them to wander aimlessly sometimes going out of their home range. Therefore they may cross a road that they normally wouldn't go near. Then if you help them to the other side, when the sun comes up the next morning, they start to navigate back to their home range and guess what, they go over the same road you helped them across. Every single situation is different so other factors like the nature of a locality (is it being developed?), type of road (helping a turtle across a four lane interstate won't save his life and might get you killed), and instinctual behavior of this species should be taken into account before a decision is made to "help" any turtle.