Missouri critters are out and about looking for mates and food. Inevitably, the season drives many of our native animals into areas that have interrupted their natural path — roads.

Photo courtesy of The Missouri Department of Conservation.

Photo courtesy of The Missouri Department of Conservation.

The Department of Conservation is asking motorists to slow down and be on the watch for traveling critters: cut your speed and watch the medians and roadsides for lingering animals that might be ready to dart into your path.

Spokesman Jim Low says not to swerve dangerously to avoid hitting an animal, or do anything drastic that might cause a crash, but to do your best to avoid them.

The same respect for wildlife is called for in people’s yards and in wooded areas. Low says wildlife is best left alone.

It’s unfortunate that many gardners this year kill snakes they run across out of fear since snakes are helpful in keeping down the rodent population. Most snakes are harmless, he says, and they don’t want anything to do with humans any more than some people want to do with them.

Another vulnerable fixture in Missouri are turtles. He says they’re a popular choice for people to take home as pets — a bad idea. He says turtles have specific dietary needs that are nearly impossible for people to meet while keeping them in captivity.

Curious kids and folks who want to bring turtles inside for a few days may do so, he says, but asks them to never keep them longer than a week, they could starve to death, and he reminds everyone of the importance of putting a turtle back in the same spot where it was picked up. Turtles have territories and can become disoriented if they’re relocated.

State Herpetologist Jeff Briggler says most of the turtles on the roads are young turtles either staking out new territory or looking for a mate. Others are basking on the warm pavement on cool mornings.

Briggler says giving them a helping hand does improve their chances if you put them the direction they were heading. Otherwise, he says, they’re just going to go back out on the road again.

He says box turtles are very resiliant and can survive after being struck sometimes, but the biggest threat is when they get hit and get flipped on their backs, which is a death sentence. He said they can’t get a foot-hold on anything when landing upside down on a smooth surface. They eventually bake in the sun and die.

The three-toed box turtle is the species most often seen crossing roads in Missouri. Primarily a woodland species, it is found everywhere but the extreme northern part of Missouri. The ornate box turtle is found in all but the southeastern corner of the state, but is more adapted to grassland and is most common in western Missouri. Young males make up most of the travelers as they search for territories of their own and for female turtles.

More info on Box Turtles »