I have some bad news for all you ‘90s kids out there: turtles are not actually ninjas.

That fact was made abundantly clear this week when I drove by the first, but likely not last, turtle this year in the middle of the road to my apartment building, not too far from the Mississippi River on La Crosse’s South Side.

I see turtles fairly regularly this time of year. The weather heats up, so the turtles head out to do their nesting and burying eggs thing, in addition to basking in some rays like the rest of us. With both humans and turtles enjoying waterfront property, we end up having to share a habitat, particularly as we build roads not too far away.

Unfortunately, that sometimes leads to crowding out of the turtles.

Last year, I’m pretty sure a mother turtle lived in my parking lot for a week. I mean, we weren’t on a first-name basis or anything — even though I said a daily “Hello” — and I didn’t get close enough to get any identifying characteristics, but I’m 90 percent certain it was the same turtle every day.

The turtle I saw last week was not so lucky.

The poor thing had gotten hit by a car. I stopped, but it was clear she and her eggs were not going to make it. They had been there for a while. While Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael have mad ninja skills to avoid oncoming traffic, the unfortunate turtle I saw clearly grew up in a different sewer, without any mutations to be had. It couldn’t exactly hop out of the way like a deer or a rabbit.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, turtles like the one I saw are increasingly common. Road mortality is one of the leading causes of declining turtle numbers in Wisconsin.

The loss of even one adult female turtle can have a significant effect on future population numbers, especially in isolated populations or in species like the wood turtle that can take from 12 to 20 years to reach reproductive age, said Andrew Badje, a DNR conservation biologist who coordinates the Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program.

The program asks people to report turtle road crossings to find places the DNR can work with road areas “to take steps to make these sites safer for motorists and less deadly for turtles,” Badje said.

And make no mistake, roads are deadly for turtles.

According to ABC News last year, about one third of turtle species in the U.S. are reaching dangerously low numbers, in part because an estimated 10 percent are killed by drivers each year.

Pet Talk, a service offered by Texas A&M University, says people should watch out for the turtles when they’re out and about in their cars.

“Turtles often cross the road after rain events,” said J. Jill Heatley, associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “Additionally, many times they are female turtles seeking an appropriate place to lay their eggs.”

Heatley recommends watching for traffic first, but says it’s OK to move turtles out of the middle of the street.

“If you can pull safely off to the side of the road and traffic permits, you can safely move the turtle to the side of the road in the direction it was headed,” Heatley said.

A 2015 DNR article suggests the same thing, even going so far as to have large snapping or spiny softshell turtles bite down on a stick to help guide them off the street or pick turtles up by the sides of their shell, but as I have zero ability to tell the difference between kinds of turtles, I’m sticking to just slowing down and waiting for them to get out of the way or driving around them if the road is pretty deserted. I’m also going to stop short of recommending anyone pick them up. Turtles might not be ninjas, but they certainly can bite if you’re close enough.

Road mortality is one of the leading causes of declining turtle numbers in Wisconsin.

Road mortality is one of the leading causes of declining turtle numbers in Wisconsin.

Jourdan Vian is the suburban weekly editor for the River Valley Media Group, overseeing the Houston County News, Coulee News and Onalaska Holmen Courier-Life.

Jourdan Vian is the suburban weekly editor for the River Valley Media Group, overseeing the Houston County News, Coulee News and Onalaska Holmen Courier-Life.

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La Crosse city government reporter

Jourdan Vian is a reporter and columnist covering local government and city issues for the La Crosse Tribune. You can contact her at 608-791-8218.

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