Drivers urged: As you hurtle, beware of turtles

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PITTSFIELD — Why does the turtle cross the road?

Because it has been plodding along low-lying areas since before humans built roads atop them, said herpetologist Tom Tyning, an environmental sciences professor at Berkshire Community College.

It's an active time of the year for turtles, he said. In recent weeks, the reptiles have been inching their way across Berkshire roadways, under wheel wells and into people's social media feeds as the county finds itself in the midst of nesting season.

Tyning said he also is seeing more signs cropping up around the county alerting travelers to turtles' favorite crossways, as well as more people stopping to help turtles cross the road.

"That's fantastic that people have been doing that," he said, noting signs in Stockbridge, Cheshire, Alford and Great Barrington. "The better ones are the ones that people make up themselves."

Blair Crane, highway superintendent of Cheshire, said he recently put up fresh turtle crossing signs on Lanesborough Road in Cheshire. He said that, every year, turtles come out of Cheshire Reservoir, cross the street and nest in the area just east of the lake.

"There was a lot of public concern that turtles weren't doing very well in their crossings there, so we're trying to address it as best we can," Crane said.

He said the signs seem to be working so far this nesting season.

"I haven't heard of any being hit this year at all," he said. "It's actually been very quiet."

Tyning said he has heard of some being hit, but he also is noticing an uptick in public support for the reptiles. When he recently has stopped to help turtles cross, he said, he has noticed others stopping to do the same.

"More and more people are stopping, and so the more, the merrier," he said. "We need more people to keep an eye on them."

Tyning said some of the rarest turtles in the country, bog turtles, call Berkshire County home. Luckily, he said, the "species of special concern" seldom leaves its wetlands, and so it doesn't often cross roads.

Tyning said another rare reptile to grace Berkshire wilderness is the wood turtle, which lives in Berkshire streams, and has orange skin and pyramid shapes along its shell. The commonly spotted turtle culprits, Tyning said, are pointed-tail snappers and painted turtles, which bear "beautiful red markings."

All turtles nest this time of year, Tyning said, which sets females in motion to find soil to their liking. They're especially busy on rainy days, he said, as the soil is more easy molded when moist.

Angela Sirois-Pitel, stewardship manager for Western Massachusetts for The Nature Conservancy, said it's best not to try to pick up a large snapping turtle, but rather to shoo it along in the direction it is heading by using a broom, snow scraper or anything else handy. She said human safety should always come first, but it does a service to the species to help get a turtle out of the road.

"This time of year is kind of hard on turtles," she said.

Tyning said it also helps to cover a turtle's face with a shirt or cloth while carrying it to the side of the road it's heading to. Still, a bite is a snapping turtle's only defense, and so it's important to be mindful of extremities.

And for turtles' sake, slow down while driving through wet areas.

"They're living life in the slow lane," Tyning said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.

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