If you happen to see a large, shelled creature with a sharp-looking beak and rough skin shuffling across the street, don’t make any snap decisions: Let the animal go on its way. Don’t try to move it along to safety.
And if you do decide to intervene, do so with caution: These things bite. Hard.
That’s the message the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife is sending motorists and anyone else who comes across snapping turtles (or smaller, friendlier species of turtles), as the creatures venture out, seeking spots to lay eggs this season.
“The best thing to do is to leave Snapping Turtles alone and they will typically move off within a few hours,” according to the state’s website. “If you must move a Snapping Turtle, use a broom to coax it into a plastic tub or box. This is the best method because Snapping Turtles are fast and have very powerful jaws that can sever fingers.”
Officials say they’ve seen a recent uptick — as they do every year around this time — in calls about snapping turtles on roadways and in parks and backyards.
According to the state’s website, turtle “nesting season” is in full swing and lasts from late May through early July.
For snapping turtles, a species that can grow up to 19 inches long and is found in rivers, lakes, ponds, and swamps, the females will travel “considerable distances” from their water habitat to lay a clutch of 20 to 40 eggs.
The season peaks in June, which would explain the abundance of encounters people have reported on social media of snapping turtles roaming the streets, settling down in yards, and making camp in local parks.
Framingham resident Alex Grabau was recently driving his SUV along Grove Street, toward Route 9, when he came across a roughly 20-pound snapping turtle smack-dab in the road.
Worried the spiky-tailed turtle would get smushed by a large truck — it was situated in an area where there were walls on either side and a blind spot in the road — he stopped, got out, tossed a sweat shirt over the animal, and put it in the back of his vehicle to move it elsewhere.
“He was hissing the whole time,” said Grabau, who posted a picture of the turtle on Twitter. “His rear legs had pretty good claws on them, and he was trying to sort of claw at me.”
Stephanie Bell of North Andover said her husband, Aaron, also had a rather public run-in with a snapping turtle this month — though he didn’t dare pick it up.
Bell said her husband had just dropped off their daughter at day care when he returned to the parking lot to find a “nasty” tail sticking out from beneath his car. There, between the front and rear tires, was one of the large reptiles.
“He basically, kind-of waited for a second to see if the head moved, and then he found a stick to nudge it with,” she said. “He nudged it to one direction, and got it to the middle of the car so he could back up carefully and not crush it. It was pretty big. I would say the shell size alone looked to be a foot long.”
Massachusetts State Police have also weighed in on the rampant turtle-in-the-road sightings, warning people to “Please drive slow for the sake of all species with whom you share the road!” after a photographer from the Worcester Telegram & Gazette tweeted pictures of a “prehistoric looking turtle” trying to cross a tree-lined street in Sturbridge.
While experts don’t recommend people dodge or stop traffic in the name of turtle safety, those who feel compelled to help a snapping turtle — or a less-dangerous species — should keep the animals in the area and direct them to the side of the road in the direction they were headed, rather than transport them somewhere else.
“It is trying to get to habitats and resources it needs. Do not take turtles home or move them to a ‘better location,’ ” cautions the state’s turtle-resources website. “Where you find them is the area that they are familiar with; they know it intimately because they have grown up in the surrounding area.”
And although they’re bulky, don’t be fooled: Snapping turtles are nimble and can deliver a painful bite if they feel threatened, according to MassAudubon.
The organization’s advice?
“Give them plenty of space, and be aware that their neck can stretch the length of the shell.”Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.