Why did the box turtle cross the road? Oh wait, it probably didn’t, because people are evil.
According to new research by Nathan Weaver, a student at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina, some motorists have the dark tendency to go out of their way to hit turtles as they cross the road. These acts of turtlecide are not incredibly common, says Weaver, but given that it can take a box turtle around 10 minutes to cross the road, the chances of the turtle making it through the gauntlet alive can drop precipitously.
Using rubber turtles, placed in the center of the lane, Weaver watched to see how many people accidentally hit the reptiles on the road. What he found was that some people actually go out of their way to smush the shelled creatures. As part of his test, says Herald Online, Weaver went out to a residential road, putting his rubber turtle in the lane.
He followed the same procedure, putting the fake turtle in the middle of the lane, facing the far side of the road, as if it was early in its journey across. The second of the 50 cars to pass by that day swerved over the center line, its right tires pulverizing the plastic shell.
“Wow! That didn’t take long – the second one this time,” Weaver said.
The other cars during this hour missed the turtle. But right after his observation period was up, before Weaver could get into the road to get the model, another car moved to the right to hit the animal as he stood less than 20 feet away.
The issue is particularly bad for turtles: they reproduce slowly, mature slowly, and walk slowly. More than that, even, says the Huffington Post, “research shows that American aquatic turtles have an uncommonly high percentage of males to females, due to the high number of females killed trying to cross roads.”
Steps can be made to make road crossings safer for wild animals, but getting people to stop deliberately hitting them with their cars seems like a fairly obvious place to start.