Turtles and cars

Recently, I received an email regarding vehicles and turtles being intentionally run over.  A study conducted at Clemson University concluded that some drivers will intentionally swerve to hit a turtle in the road.  Although I have not been able to find the peer-reviewed published article, the preliminary data is pretty interesting.  The researchers placed a fake rubber turtle in the road and observed what the passing cars would do.  Out of 257 cars that passed, 7swerved and hit the turtle, several more swerved but missed.  Similarly, a psychology professor at Western Carolina State University determined that 35/110 students had intentionally hit turtles.

I believe more research needs to be conducted on whether drivers are intentionally or accidentally hitting the turtles.  Additionally, more research needs to be conducted on why drivers would intentionally run over a turtle.  Is it for fun?  Are they exerting dominance over the natural world? And why should we even care?

To answer that last question it is important to understand a bit about turtles and their importance in the ecosystem. Turtles consume small fish, crustaceans, macroinvertebrates, and dead and decaying plant material which helps to recycle stored energy.  Also, turtles are important dispersers of seeds.  The energy consumed by turtles is stored in their muscle and shell and when preyed upon by mammals, birds, and fish are released back into the ecosystem to be recycled and used by other organisms.

In the U.S. about a third of the turtle species have reached seriously low population levels.  Additionally, nearly every state of the nation has at least one species of turtle that is listed as threatened or endangered.

Turtles are very slow to mature.  For example, female painted turtles will take 6-16 years to reach sexual maturity and have clutch sizes from 1 to 11 eggs.  Also, female painted turtles typically mate in spring

Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) – Photo courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The image is part of the public domain.

and deposit their eggs in early to mid-summer, which makes them particularly vulnerable to vehicles.  Hatchlings overwinter in their nests and emerge in the spring and survivorship of newly hatched young is very low.  To summarize, turtles are long-lived, slow to reproduce, and have relatively few offspring that will survive.

There are more and more vehicles on the road.  Accidents will happen and turtles will be killed.  However, why someone would intentionally try to hit a turtle is beyond my comprehension.

Here is the link to the original article