Thursday, January 6, 2011

Give 'em a Brake

Although there are many threats to Michigan reptiles & amphibians, one of the greatest obstacles they face are roadways. Every year, thousands of herps lose their lives on roadways as they attempt to cross from one patch of habitat to another. This is a cruel reality as the human population continues to increase and expand our borders outward. More roads are necessary, and often these roadways cut right through ideal habitat for common and protected species alike. Even parks have this issue in the state, especially some of the parks in southeast Michigan which hold populations of Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes. Some parks have experienced such losses due to road mortality that they have posted snake crossing signs to warn motorists in the parks to be mindful of rattlesnakes crossing the road.

But snakes don't face nearly the same threat that roadways present in comparison to Michigan's turtle species. In the late spring and early summer, female turtles head for high ground in search of suitable nesting sites. Unlike a snake, turtles are not quick and often mozy their way across roads where motorists often hit them untinentionally or sometimes intentionally. In this case, large numbers of turtles are being lost, and whats worse is that it is the females which are carrying potential offspring that take a major hit. This coupled with nest predation has taken a major toll on Michigan turtle populations. Some side roads receive less traffic and these areas give some turtles a fighting chance, like this female Blanding's Turtle found nesting along a roadside in southeast Michigan.

Unfortunately, not all individuals are are lucky as this female. In another county, this poor girl was found on the side of the road alongside many other females of various species including Snapping Turtles, Musk Turtles, and Midland Painted Turtles.

Other turtle species also are at risk to road mortality. Of all of Michigan's turtles, it is the semi-aquatic Wood Turtle and terrestrial Eastern Box Turtle that tend to cross roads at particular tunes if the year. Both of these species are tough to miss on a road, and sadly get hit by oncoming traffic more than they should.

Although it is impossible to eliminate road mortality, it is possible to raise awareness to help combat it. In the spring, watch out for migrating salamanders on warm rainy nights in April. In May & June, watch out for turtles looking for nesting sites. And in the fall, be mindful of snakes that are heading back to their hibernation sites for the winter. If you see a herp attempting to cross a road, do it a favor by helping it across and then leaving it be, you may not make a huge difference in the large scheme of things, but it would help that individual get across without losing its life to passing traffic. So next time you're out there, give 'em a brake!

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