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Turtle Alert for Motorists Due to Mating Season

The three-toed box turtle is the most common turtle in the midwest./Credit: Missouri Department of Conservation website

The Missouri Department of Conservation is warning motorists of the abundance of box turtles crossing the roads, especially highways, this time of the year. KSMU’s Anna Thomas has more.  

In an informal observation, the state herpetologist counted 116 three-toed box turtles crossing Highway 63 between Jefferson City and Cabool in just one day. Out of those, 104 were hit by vehicles.

Jim Low, spokesperson for Missouri Department of Conservation, says May is common for this amount of roaming turtles.

“If you want to evoke Alfred Lord Tennyson, this is a time when not only young men’s, but male turtle’s fancies lightly turn to thoughts of love,” Low said.

May is not just mating season for turtles, but the season after hibernation when many turtles go searching for food.

The three-toed box turtle is found statewide, but the ornate box turtle is mostly found in southwestern Missouri. These turtles can typically live 60 years, needing that time to repopulate because their eggs are subject to many predators.

“If you take a long lived animal like that, that needs a long time to replace itself, and you start imposing some sort of new source of mortality on them, it can have some pretty profound effects on their population dynamic,” Low said.

The Conservation Department is asking motorists to keep an eye out for turtles, and avoid hitting them if it’s safe.  Low also stresses that box turtles don’t do well in captivity. If they are caught, it is important to return them to the same area otherwise the turtle will have trouble finding food.

“In nature, if you tug on it you find it’s connected to everything else. They eat plant, insect and animal matter. They are just a part of a healthy ecosystem,” Low said.

Click here for more information about common turtles in our area.

For KSMU News, I’m Anna Thomas.