The Eastern box turtle, shown here, is one of Georgia’s most widespread turtle species. It’s also one of about 10 turtle species in the state that often cross highways this time of year to reach suitable nesting spots, food, habitat or mates. CONTRIBUTED BY STEPHEN FRIEDT/CREATIVE COMMONS

Highways pose grave dangers for egg-laying turtles

As I travel Georgia’s two-lane back roads this time of year, it’s not uncommon to see turtles steadily plodding their way across a highway. Presumably, most — if not all — of them are females in search of suitable dry spots to lay their eggs.

Most Georgia turtle species lay their eggs by digging a hole in the ground, depositing the eggs and then covering the nest with soil. Finding the best spot to ensure egg survival, though, may necessitate traveling relatively long distances and across roadways

Sadly, untold numbers of the reptiles don’t make it across the roads. They become road kill: flattened, mangled carcasses on the pavement, run over by automobiles.

Not all turtles, of course, need to cross a road to lay their eggs. But a sizable number do take that risky route — enough to make highway fatalities a major threat to turtle survival. The loss of just 5 percent of adult female turtles from an area can lead to serious population declines, according to wildlife biologists.

Turtles are particularly vulnerable to being struck by vehicles because they are slow moving and when confronted by a threat will stop and withdraw into their shells.

Georgia turtle species that regularly cross roads and highways include painted turtles, box turtles, stinkpots or musk turtles, mud turtles, map turtles, as well as yellow-bellied sliders, cooters, softshell turtles, common snapping turtles and (on the coast) diamondback terrapins. And although egg-laying is a major reason that turtles cross highways, turtles of either sex also may do it to find mates, food and suitable habitat.

If you stop to help a turtle get across a highway, make sure you move it to the side of the road in which it was heading. Otherwise, it will try to cross again. For safety tips on helping turtles:

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon will be last-quarter on Tuesday. Mercury is low in the west just after sunset. Venus is low in the east just before sunrise. Mars is very low in the west at dusk and sets about an hour later. Jupiter rises in the east around midnight; Saturn does so a few hours later.

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