Watch for eastern box turtles on West Virginia backroads

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Watch for eastern box turtles on West Virginia backroads
An eastern box turtle eyes a cluster of wild strawberries in a West Virginia wood. (Photo: W.Va. Dept. of Commerce)

Thirteen species of turtle live in West Virginia, though the best known may be the eastern box turtle, which will be on the move this spring.

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The turtles are a familiar sight in backyards and along hiking trails—and on country roads, where motorists are often at a loss as to how to manage the situation.

Lauren Cole, a naturalist at Chief Logan State Park near Logan, West Virginia, has much to say about the long-lived turtles and their rescue.

The reptiles, she says, are named for their hinged shells, which consist of a dome-like carapace and a hinged underbelly that lets the turtle close its shell any time it feels threatened.

“It’s a really unique defense mechanism, and it makes it really hard for predators to actually get to them,” Cole says.

While their shells protect them from the usual forest predators, traffic-related injuries and death is a concern for the turtles.

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So, if you see one trying to cross the road, Cole suggests you might follow these simple rules:

  1. Safely stop your car on the side of the road.
  2. Find out which direction the turtle is traveling.
  3. Gently move the turtle off the road in that direction.

Box turtles have very long lifespans and can live for more than 100 years, though most usually don’t live longer than 30 or 40 years.

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