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How did the turtle cross the road?

In Byrnes Mill, with the help of the city’s Police Department.

It’s mating season for turtles, so they are on the move, and since mid-May,

Byrnes Mill Police have helped 16 of them cross the road safely.

Police Chief Frank T. Salvaggio said he helped the first two turtles.

“I started doing it one day,” he said. “Down on Lower Byrnes Mill (Road) I found two turtles trying to cross the road, so I stopped.

“We have a patrol board in the office and just for fun I drew a little turtle on it and wrote ‘turtle saves’ and put two check marks on it.”

Selvaggio said the department’s police officers started following his example.

“It kind of became a craze around here,” he said.

Dan Zarlenga, the St. Louis regional media specialist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, said the Police Department’s efforts help the local turtle population.

“We appreciate their efforts and are glad they are doing that,” he said.

Zarlenga said the turtle population can be adversely impacted by cars hitting them.

“Unfortunately, hitting a turtle is not like hitting a squirrel or something,” he said. “Turtles tend to be long-lived species. They don’t produce as prodigiously as some other animals do.”

Zarlenga said most turtles can live up to 30 years in the wild, and box turtles have been recorded to live up to 80 years.

“It (turtles killed on roads) is a significant factor,” he said. “It’s not just, ‘Oh, poor little turtle killed.’ It gets to the point where it is unfortunately a noticeable impact on their population from getting hit by vehicles.”

Selvaggio said the turtles he and the officers have been finding appear to be three-toed box turtles.

Zarlenga said three-toed box turtles are the most common ones in the area.

However, Zarlenga said snapping turtles can be found in the area, and some people might occasionally see an ornate box turtle, although they are more often found in prairie regions.

Zarlenga said turtles cross the road for a number of reasons.

“The reason we see them more this time of year is because this is their mating season,” he said. “The males are out there looking for mates and can be traveling several miles.”

Zarlenga said males can travel up to 5 or 6 miles.

“Considering the size of a turtle, that is a pretty good distance,” he said.

Zarlenga said females do not travel as much as male turtles, but they do travel looking for nests.

He said another reason turtles are on the move right now is because of flooding.

“As the rivers get flooded, or expand their banks it’s possible that is driving some of this wildlife to other places, including turtles,” Zarlenga said.

He said people also may find turtles on roads because they are cold-blooded animals and seek warm places.

Both Zarlenga and Selvaggio agree that personal safety must come before helping turtles.

“We always tell folks don’t do anything if it’s not safe,” Zarlenga said.

“I am not going to recommend doing it on a two-lane road with no shoulders,” Selvaggio said.

He also advises people to always look in both directions if you are trying to help a turtle.

Zarlenga said the best thing drivers can do is not drive distracted and be aware of where you are driving. He said the best thing to do if you can’t move a turtle is slow down and just drive around it.

If you can’t drive around the turtle, try not to hit it with the vehicle’s tires, Zarlenga said.

“Most likely if you straddle the turtle between your wheels, you’ll go right over it without harming it,” he said. “In the middle of a lane, that might be the safest thing to do.”

Selvaggio said he and his officers make sure to move the turtles they help in the same direction they are headed when they find them in the road.

Zarlenga said that’s a good idea.

“The reason you want to do the same direction is because the turtle is moving a particular direction for a reason,” he said.

Zarlenga said if you move a turtle in the direction it was coming from, it will most likely get back on the road.

“Now, you have increased the danger to the turtle,” he said. “Before it was halfway across the road and now it has to start all over again.”

For more information about turtles, visit mdc.mo.gov.

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