"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Giving Turtles A "Brake"
Copyright © 2007 by Bill Scifres

Be extremely careful with your driving now . . . we are smack-dab in the middle of catching turtles in their traveling mode--not to mention some other wild amphibians. They tend to quit home-sweet-home waters at this time year  (ostensibly to nest on dry land) and they travel the roads in seeking nest sites. Often enough, they are crushed by auto and truck wheels at a time when they are in need of help just to survive on this madhouse called earth.

A couple of years ago, for example, I was driving west on a long, strait stretch of Highway 32 in Hamilton County at mid-afternoon when traffic was light. A quarter of a mile ahead, I noticed a small critter crossing the road and immediately slowed my car. Closer, I could see an automobile coming from the other direction and possibly death for a beautiful, six-inch painted turtle (non-edible).

Turning on my flashers, I stopped, exited my car and hand-flagged the coming auto down. With the situation well in hand, I carried Mrs.. Painted into a fallow field and went back to my car. The driver of the other vehicle waived merrily as we both continued--a good wildlife deed under our belts.

Unfortunately, the scenarios cannot always end that happily. A few days later a four-inch box turtle lumbered across Highway 3 north of North Vernon when the traffic was so heavy and the berme so narrow that I could not stop to try to help. Drive as I might, and turning around as soon as possible, my efforts were of no avail. The turtle was hit before I could get back there and my efforts to save it went for naught.

In the following week I picked up a 10-inch snapper on a Boone County back road and escorted it to a creek near my garden. But a day later a gravel truck hit a very big snapper (hardshell) so hard that the carapace (hard upper shell) was cracked at the left-rear corner and my efforts to save it were again thwarted. So I saved the meat, a last-ditch use. 

All of this, hopefully, serves to make drivers aware of the fact that a frog, toad, turtle, or some other critter (edible or not) is well-worth saving . . . if it can be done without putting your own life and limb (or those of somebody else) on the line. It would be far better for a person to hit a critter than another vehicle or stationery object. But still, we should revere wildlife much  more than most humans tend to these days.

The common snapping turtle, smooth softshell turtle, spiny softshell turtle bullfrog, and green frog are regulated by the Department of Natural Resources as game species with a daily limit of 25 and a possession limit of 50. There are other regulations involving these species, but for the most part box turtles (non-game, non-edible) are the big concern of this law.

It is good that we have stringent laws on the box turtle, and the non-game turtles and amphibians. Still, snapping turtles, softshells, our chief food producers, seem to deserve more protection, including on the roadways. I donít know how one goes about protecting the critters on the roads, but an intense educational campaign would certainly help.

Turtles and other amphibians may be found on the highways and byways at any time during the warm months. But they are most prevalent at this time of year and again in late summer and fall when small waterholes (primarily swamps, bogs and small streams) are drying up.

Although snappers and hardshells have a very long neck, it is safe to pick them up by the tail, keeping the heads well away from your body. But the bite of either a snapper or hardshell is brutal.

Once many years ago my boyhood friend and I found 18 eating-size snappers in an old swamp and tethered them by their tails for the trip to town suspended from a strong pole that he carried on his shoulder from the rear with me supporting the pole in front. The largest turtle of the bunch was a foot or so immediately behind me.

As we entered the town, I noticed a fore-aft rocking motion of the pole that set the turtles into a pendulum motion. 

About the time I realized my friend was creating a situation, the big turtle nailed me (only a bruise through my pants) on the chubby cheek of my posterior. The turtles turned into a dishpan of delicious meat for each of our families and a stone crock for our neighbors.    


All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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