A snapper saved by Andrew Brinker in March 2020 while driving through East Texas. He expects the young male was probably crossing to another stock pond. Photos by Andrew Brinker.

May 4, 2024

Why did the turtle cross the road?

Probably to get to the river or pond or sunny nesting spot on the other side. 

That’s why local turtle experts says if you find one in the middle of the street, you should carry it across the road in the direction it was going. That’s because, most of the time, it knows where it’s headed. 

Andrew Brinker with Alligator Snapping TurtleAndrew Brinker with a 108-pound male alligator snapper caught and released in the Trinity River for the Trinity River Turtle Survey in 2020.

Andrew Brinker, a Tarrant County College and Fort Worth ISD biology teacher, led the Trinity River Turtle Survey, a three-year study of turtle population of a four-mile stretch of the river in Fort Worth.

He said spring is breeding season for turtles. About 90 percent don't need to cross roads and highways to look for mates or nesting grounds. But a few do find traffic in their paths so it can be up to us to ferry them across.

DFW Herpetological Society cofounder and GSDFW reporter Michael Smith agrees.

"I've seen some turtles crossing roads this spring, and it's great if a person can safely help move them off the road in the direction they were going," said Smith.

Brinker said turtle road crossings can happen any time of the year but are more common in April and May. Sliders and snapping turtles are the species most commonly seen cruising across the lanes.

“Males are looking for females. Females are looking for a sunny spot to lay their eggs. Their hormone levels are just going bonkers like a teenager,” said Brinker told Green Source DFW.


While most turtles stick near the river or pond banks, the reason some end up in traffic varies.

In some cases, development has intruded in a turtle's native territory. But Brinker suspects a few wandering turtles are released or wayward pets unfamiliar with the lay of the land.

River cooter

A river cooter measured and marked by Trinity River Turtle Survey in 2020.

Again — if you do spot a turtle in the road and can safely pull over, Brinker says the best guideline is to carry it across in the direction it was going.

Since 2018, it's illegal to sell wild turtles in Texas. You need a hunting license to take one from the wild and keep it as a pet.​

However, in rare cases that the destination directly on other side seems unsuitable — such as it's under development or is already a parking lot, Brinker suggests taking the turtle to the closest body of water — a river or a pond — but make sure to stay within the turtle's home range, which he estimates is about half a mile.

"Generally, you wouldn't want to take a turtle [far away] to an area just because you think it would be better, like the stock pond on your grandparents place or whatever. That oftentimes isn't good because then the turtles will try to get back home and then they'll be more likely to get back on the road and get run over." 

Brinker, who has a masters degree in zoology and once worked as a herpetologist for the Fort Worth Zoo, knows first-hand about turtle territory, based on his catch and release studies on the Trinity.

“When it rains, you’d think they they’d just be washed down the river, but I’ve caught one female seven different times in the same location over three years,” said Brinker. “I’ve caught others in the same location four or five times.”


A spiny softshell turtle caught and released by Trinity River Turtle Survey in 2020. See TPWD guide to common Texas turtles.

Turtles are omnivores. They feed primarily on algae, seeds, plant material, insects and larvae.

"People are always wanting to get rid of turtles in their ponds, because they think they're eating the fish, but they're actually keeping it clean," said Brinker. "They're kind of like goats — they eat everything. If you don't have turtles on the bottom, you're just gonna have a big green algae mess."

Although Brinker has loved turtles since he was a kid growing up in Michigan, he admitted they make “terrible pets.” 

He said that's why people release them into the environment.

“They’re really stinky, they eat a lot, they need special lighting and they live forever. Most people that buy those tiny babies don’t know they get bigger.”

“I really discourage people who try to keep them as pets.”

So if you do find one in the crosshairs of oncoming cars, help it on its way. But Brinker cautioned — only when the traffic clears. Don't put yourself in danger to save it.

“I would not recommend saving a turtle on I-20 or I-30.”

Watch this Texas Parks and Wildlfe Department shares what to do if you find a turtle crossing the road.

Turtle Crossing

This article was originally in published on Green Source DFW in 2020 and has been updated.


Fort Worth students survey turtles along Trinity River

Some turtles need help avoiding the fast lane

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