Do you practice Anthropomorphism or Anthropodenial?

Inky the ocotpus
Anthropomorphism In the News: Inky the Octopus was recently compared to El Chapo and The Shawshank Redemption

Hello Again, Friends!

Full disclosure:  I am breaking my no-more-blog-posts-until-I-finish-writing-my-books-and-move-out-west rule.  Again.  But it’s so hard not to share things with you all, especially when I am passionate about something!

The topic on the table is something that every single person on this planet has done at least once in their life.  For many, it’s something we all do almost every day.  We anthropomorphize.


 

What is Aɴᴛʜʀᴏᴘᴏᴍᴏʀᴘʜɪsᴍ?

The big “A” word is the attribution of human traits, emotions, motivations, and intentions to non-human entities (objects, animals, natural phenomena).  Anthropomorphism is derived from its verb anthropomorphize, which is derived from the Greek word ánthrōpos, meaning “human”, and morphē , meaning “form”.  It was first attested in 1753, originally in reference to the heresy of applying a human form to the Christian God.

The practice of anthropomorphism is an innate tendency of human psychology.  We all do it.  We see it everywhere:  The Easter Bunny is an anthropomorphized rabbit.  Shel Silverstein’s book The Giving Tree anthropomorphizes the tree.   I named my first car.

It’s natural for us to want to relate to an animal, a plant, the weather, an object, the gods, goddesses, deities, angels, God, and anything else that seems to be outside of us.  We want to connect!   We want to create a connection that helps us to feel good.  We need connections that help us to feel safe and supported.  These connections can be powerful.  They can heal.  They help.  They can foster loving connections.

But this natural tendency can also be very unhelpful and sometimes detrimental.

 


Eye of the Beholder

Let’s set the plants, weather, and goddesses aside for now.  I am going to address our human view of animals’ behavior today.   How we perceive behavior is key.  When we don’t know how or why an animal is doing something, we tend to make it about us; we personalize it.  We place the meaning that a behavior has for us, onto the animal.  We anthropomorphize.

Let’s use two common examples of cat and dog behavior.

When we see a cat languidly rolling around on the floor, stretching and yawning in front of a child, or in front of another cat or dog, we see this behavior and think, “Awe, he’s so relaxed! He wants someone to love him!”  But what could actually be happening with that behavior is very clear in cat language: Calm Down, Dude.  It’s all good.  I am not a threat.  Be Cool.  Chillax man.   The cat is most likely offering a displacement behavior.  But from our human perspective, we see sleepiness and invitation.

When a dog interrupts play to sniff his or her uro-genital body parts, we most likely will be embarrassed or grossed out, then label the dog as “nasty”.  But the dog is far from nasty. The dog is offering a behavior that helps him/her to feel safe, or to feel better in that moment.  What is most likely happening is the dog is performing a displacement behavior that occurs in stressful situations.  But from our human perspective we have labeled the behavior and interpreted it much differently from the dog’s reality.

An animal’s particular behavior may seem to be “adorable”, “annoying”, “affectionate”, “rude”, “playful”, “disgusting”, “excited”, “happy”, “bored”, “mean”, “loving”, or “spiteful”, but there may be more than meets our human eye.  Behaviors have functions. They are not always what we perceive them to be.  The behavior that we have chosen to label as “excited” may actually be stress arousal.  The behavior  that we labeled “affectionate” may be used as a distance increasing behavior, or even scent marking for security.  Fearful, unsure, overwhelmed, and incapable could be easily labeled as “stubborn”.   What we perceive from our humanistic viewpoint is often way off the mark of what the animal is experiencing.


Pitfalls of the Big “A” Word

Misreading those two examples of behavior are not harmful in and of themselves. But some of the ways we misread, mislabel, and anthropomorphize animal behavior is harmful.  And sometimes it’s dangerous.

One pitfall of anthropomorphizing animal behavior can be harmful and unfair to our pets.  When we perceive our pet’s behavior from our human perspective (beliefs, intentions, and motivations), we miss the mark.  We are unable to see what’s really happening with the animal.   We see a behavior, assume it’s happening for one reason, then we get frustrated or upset with the animal.  All too often the result from these kinds of misunderstandings and misperceptions is detrimental to the animals: They are the ones who are punished. All because of the belief, projection, or label that the person has placed upon them.

But in the animal’s reality – from the animal’s perspective- the behavior was performed for an entirely different reason or need.  It was necessary.


 

Perception is consistent. What you see reflects your thinking.
And your thinking but reflects your choice of what you want to see. -ACIM


All Behavior Serves A Purpose.

Many pet owners truly believe that animal companion is behaving  out of spite or malice.  This is not true.  Animals do what works for them.  All behavior serves a purpose.  And that purpose is not to piss us off.  Period.

Pet owners are simply unaware that the stool they found on their antique rug was from a very painfully constipated cat who needs medical attention.  The dog who chewed their favorite shoes is suffering from anxiety.  The cat who howls all night is suffering from a variety of aging ailments.  The dog who barks at strangers is suffering from deep-rooted fear issues.

But what does the human see?  A mess. Embarrassing behavior. Disruptive behavior.  We miss the reality of what’s behind each of those behaviors:  A call for help.

We are the ones who can respond to their calls for assistance.

When we don’t know how or why an animal behavior problem exists, we tend to make it about us; we personalize it.  We make it into something that we can relate to.  We label the animal.  In the animal behavior world, this Anthropomorphism at its worst.


Hidden in the complex world of behavior science is a simple, often underutilized, fact that there is never just behavior.  Behavior never occurs in a vacuum or sprays out of an animal haphazardly like water from a leaky showerhead, independent of conditions.  Behavior always depends on the environment in some way.

– Susan Friedman. Ph.D.


Safety Compromised

Another pitfall of anthropomorphism is a lack of safety.  Take for instance the dog and baby or toddler who are “the best of friends” in the parent’s eyes.  But dog and baby are not the best of friends.  Dog is tolerating, and baby is on the borderline of dog’s boundary.   The parents want to create a connection between dog and baby that helps them to feel good, and maybe even to feel safe.  But the parents are unaware of the danger because they want so badly to  connect. They want their dog and baby to be best friends, so that is what they see.  But that is not the reality.

One example of this is “The Kiss To Dismiss.”  A parent might assume her dog loves her baby because the dog is often licking  the child’s face.  But this is often not so.  The behavior of face licking appears to be stemming from affection, but it certain circumstances, this behavior is intended to increase the distance between the licker and the lickee.  This is a very effective way for a dog to get someone who is pestering, threatening, or annoying them them to go away.    In dangerous situations like this, the unaware parents have placed their human attributes, human traits, emotions, motivations, and intentions onto the dog.  Anthropomorphism is at work here.


 

The Desire to Create a Connection

Do you see a theme here?   People want to connect with their pets.  They want their kids and other people to connect with their pets.  This makes people feel good.  People ultimately want to feel safe ans secure.  But when their pet’s behavior becomes unacceptable, or is labeled as something familiar and relate-able to the person (ex. spiteful, vengeful, malicious, rude, annoying, or aggressive) they lose trust in the animal and they don’t feel connected anymore. This loss of connection only widens the gap of communication and understanding.

 


Viral Vidz

When it comes to people, pets, and wild animals, anthropomorphism is usually at the root of many misperceptions and many mishaps.  People not only want to connect with their pets, but they also want to connect with animals in nature.  Part of the fun of indulging in a bit of anthropomorphizing of animals allows people to feel that animals are “just like us!”  Of course we want to connect to animals.   Connecting makes us feel good.  But our lack of awareness, combined with our desire to connect with species who should remain wild can cloud our judgement.

The video that went viral of the kids petting the Lemur is one example.  At first glance it looks adorable.  And the children even appear to be practicing the “Pause Pet Respect” Rule, which is pretty cool!   But, just like almost every animal video that goes viral, there is more going on than meets the eye.

Having worked with nonhuman primates in captivity, I have seen all too many of them who are abandoned and discarded as a result of the all too common must-have-it pet trade.  The desire to own an exotic animal, or even wanting to interact and connect with it can be a very slippery slope.  Unfortunately and all too often, lemurs like Sefo, and other exotic animals are taken from their natural habitat, sold or orphaned, and in return have poor quality lives; they are left alone in the unfamiliar and foreign human world, no longer able to survive in the lemur world.

What we are seeing in that “adorable” video is only a fraction of what’s the truth; Sefo was taken from his family and abandoned.  The ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta)  live in large family groups. These groups preen (groom) each other all day.  If Sefo was with his natural born family he would never consider letting a human approach him.

Everyone anthropomorphized what we saw in that video.  It’s a natural response for anyone, if we don’t know about healthy and normal primate behavior.  But that’s the point.  When we lack knowledge of an individual animal’s needs, when we don’t know the natural biology and behavior of an animal, the only perspective we have is from our limited human point of view.

 


And Then Came “Anthropodenial”…

So by now you are probably realizing that how you view your pets, wild animals, and even the weather is largely based around anthropomorphizing.  Attributing human characteristics to the weather and animals does create great material for humorous cartoons, but it’s not helpful if we want to understand why things happen they way they do, and why an animal behaves a certain way.

Placing human-like intentions on animals is often thought of as unscientific.  But there are some who argue that anthropomorphizing’s opposing position, “anthropodenial” — an unwillingness to recognize the human-like traits of animals — is too prevalent in our attitudes toward other species.

I have to ask: Could the absence of anthropomorphism be just as harmful?


Similar Species?

Through decades of analyzing animal-cognition research, animals have exhibited many of key behaviors that were once thought to distinguish humans from animals. Some of these abilities and behaviors include the ability to consider the past and the future, the ability to demonstrate empathy and self-awareness, and the awareness and ability to anticipate the motives of others.   Certain skills are considered key signs of higher mental abilities. These skills and abilities were once reserved for the human species, but now the animal kingdom shares many of these abilities!

These include, but are not limited to:

– a good memory

– ability to recall a specific past event

– a grasp of grammar and symbols

– self-awareness

– grieving

– understanding others’ motives

– imitating others

– being creative

– cheating

– lying


Animal cognition research humbles us.  We are not alone in our ability to invent or plan or to contemplate ourselves—or even to plot and lie. -“Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?,” the Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal


Superior Species?

Over the years and through ingenious experiments, researchers have documented these skills in other non-human species, gradually eroding the deep-seeded belief that human beings are the superior species.  But there is research to show us otherwise.  Animals can be incredibly complex cognitive creatures. Animals’ abilities can and do rival ours.

Darwin even suggested that earthworms are cognitive beings!  Based on his close observations, earthworms have to make judgments about the kinds of leafy material they use to block their tunnels. Darwin did not expect to discover thinking invertebrates.  He shared that even a hint of earthworm intelligence “has surprised me more than anything else.”


Behind The Scenes of Each Species

I have found myself thinking similar surprising thoughts with the species I have worked and lived with over the years.  What I have learned from them has revolutionized the way I perceive animals and their behavior.   I may not understand the motivation behind an animal’s particular behavior, but I do understand and I do recognize and respect that every behavior serves a purpose for each animal.  Whether this behavior is a choice, a preference, or it serves a vital outcome, it must be respected.  Even if I am unable to perceive it at the time.

There is indeed, more happening “behind the scenes” in an animal’s world than we are aware.


If an octopus were to measure human intelligence, it might test us on the number of color patterns we can produce on the skin of our (pathetically few) appendages. Seeing us flunk the test, it might conclude that we are pretty stupid.

-The Soul of an Octopus” by naturalist Sy Montgomery


Not All Are Created Equal.

 

Thanks to science and observing behavior, we now know that animals do have abilities and skills that rival ours:

– Scrub jays are aware that other jays are thieves and that their stashed food can spoil

– Sheep can recognize faces

– Capuchin monkeys can experience envy

– Chimpanzees use a variety of tools to probe termite mounds and even use weapons to hunt small mammals

–  Crows can hold grudges against the biologists who capture and tag them

– Orcas use highly coordinated synchronized swimming to push seals off ice floes and into the water

– Sea lions can associate symbols (if A goes with B, and B goes with C, then A and C belong together as well)

– Dolphins can imitate human postures

– The archerfish, which stuns insects with a sudden blast of water, can learn how to aim its squirt simply by watching an experienced fish perform the task

– Chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas have been taught to use sign language and symbols

– Alex the parrot turned out to be a surprisingly amazing speaker

– Betsy the Bodercollie has a vocabulary of more than 300 words.

– Octopi can be shy, playful, cantankerous, or sneaky. They crave attention and play with toys.


Squirrels may fail at memory tasks that are important to humans, but, whereas we need apps to help us find our misplaced cell phones, they can remember where they’ve hidden tiny caches of nuts.-de Waal


Awareness, Knowledge, and Intelligence Coexisting

So, let’s say for a moment that some species of animals are capable of the full spectrum of intelligence and awareness of we humans.  Does that mean that our pets ARE doing things out of spite and malice?  Does this mean that our pets “should know better?” Does this mean that we shouldn’t use anthropomorphism?  Does this mean that all conscious beings are fully armed knowledge of absolutely everything in the universe?

My short answer to all of those questions is NO.

History has shown us that extreme anthropomorphizing of animals can lead to blaming animals for crimes and it can end terribly for the animal.  For example, in medieval and early modern Europe the animal’s mind was considered sophisticated enough that domesticated animals such as dogs and pigs could be put on trial for crimes.  Seriously, this happened.

As crazy as that case was, similar situations still happen today.  Pet owners tell me (all too often) why they blame their pet for “deliberately” behaving in ways that are “clearly meant to piss them off”.  They claim the animal “knows what she’s doing!” They are convinced that he is “doing it on purpose!”

Then they punish the animal.  Or they toss their family pet out like the trash.


Of course animals are behaving in ways that serve their needs.  They are not mindless creatures.  They are sentient beings who are trying to live in our human world the best way they know how.  But the animals with whom we share a home are not doing things for the reasons that we humans might be doing them.

Our pets are not being spiteful, vengeful, or malicious. They are behaving in ways that help them to coexist in our human world.  They are behaving in ways that help them to feel better. They are behaving in ways that help them to feel safe.  They are behaving in response to their internal and external environment!  Their behavior always serves a purpose.  That purpose is not to upset you.   I promise you this.


Your job as their guardian is to discover what they are trying to communicate.  Your duty is to learn why their behavior is happening.  Your job as their guardian is to learn their language.  It’s not enough to love, shelter, and feed them.  We have to learn to communicate clearly.  We must set aside our human perceptions and limited beliefs.  And we must learn as much as we can.

Our duty as an animal guardian is to become fluent in their needs, their biology, their health, history, and their species-specific language.  We need to know about each species’ natural behaviors!   And if you don’t know them, learn them.  Read about dog or cat behavior. Read up on the particular species of lizard or parrot that you have.  Read about the requirements of rats.  Know what your kid’s guinea pig needs.  Read about the red flags to be aware of in cat behavior and health.  Know what your cat needs to thrive!  Learn what dogs need to feel safe and secure in our human world.  Know what your dog needs to feel safe and connected.

Our animal companions want to connect with us, but it may not be in the way that we know how to, or how we prefer to connect.  Each animal is an individual.  And each species has their unique needs.  Our pets want to feel safe.    They need to be supported in their environment.  They want to thrive.  They are no different from us when it comes to wanting their individual needs to be met.  And they will do what they can to ensure all of this.  This theme is one that connects us all.   Animals know what they need.  They feel.  They respond to their world. They behave in ways that work for them.

The question is I feel we need to ask ourselves is:  How am I viewing all of this from my human perspective?


“It’s easy to project our own feelings onto animals—and that’s a mistake, but it’s a worse mistake to think that we are up on some kind of pedestal and that animals can’t also think, feel, and know.” – naturalist, Sy Montgomery 

 


Recommended Reading:

FIRESTARTERS!

FIRESTARTERS!
FIRE STARTERS!??

According to the National Fire Protection Association, nearly 1,000 house fires are accidentally started by pets each year.  Yes, you read that correctly; a thousand house fires are linked to companion animals in our homes.

When I learned this startling stat I immediately thought of Stephen King’s FireStarter, then I began to laugh as the above images flash into my mind.  As comical as it seems to imagine a dog, parrot, ferret, or cat starting fires like Drew Barrymore did, it’s a very serious concern in homes.  Apparently it’s serious enough to have a day dedicated to it!  Today is National Pet Fire Safety Day, so let’s look at the stats, and see what we can do to change them.

Fire Facts:

  • Home fires are reported every 83 seconds.
  • An estimated 500,000 pets are affected annually by fires.
  • 40,000 pets die each year, mostly from smoke inhalation.
  • Stove tops and/or cook tops are the number one piece of equipment involved in pets starting fires in the home.
  • 2010 study showed that space heaters were responsible for 32% of home-heating fires.

Pet20releaseThe American Kennel Club® and ADT Security Services have joined forces for National Pet Fire Safety Day (July 15) to spread awareness about how pets start home fires, and how we can prevent these fires:

Tips to Prevent Pets from Starting Fires!

  • Extinguish flames!  As counter-intuitive as it seems, many animals will investigate cooking appliances, candles, etc.  Make sure animals are not left unattended around an open flame.  Be sure to extinguish all flames before leaving home, or falling asleep!
  • Be aware of Canine Kleptos!  Food- motivated dogs (and cats!) will often try to climb, jump, and reach up to food left out on the stove/counter.  When they do this they can accidentally hit the stove knobs.  Stove tops/cook tops are the number one piece of equipment involved in pets starting fires in the home.  Fire Safety experts suggest that we remove stove knobs or protect them with covers before leaving the house.  My suggestion is to remove any temptation!  Don’t leave food out! If there is no temptation, they won’t be up on surfaces where they don’t belong.
  • Invest in flameless candles.  These candles contain a light bulb rather than an open flame, and take the danger out of pets knocking over a candle.  Cats are notorious for starting fires when their tails turn over lit candles.  Wagging dog tails can knock over incense and candles.  I have seen cats and dogs burn their tails and whiskers on candle flames, then knock over the flame.  Keep these well out of reach of pets! inglow
  • Secure young pets!  Keep them away from potential fire-starting hazards when you are away from home. Space heaters can be a huge risk for pets starting fires. When in doubt, put any hazardous items away!  Or, use a safe crate, or place the pets in secure areas.

Make It Easy for Firefighters to Help Your Pets!

  • Keep collars on all animals in the home. Keep leashes handy in case firefighters need to rescue them.
  • Keep pets in areas or rooms near entrances where firefighters can easily find them.
  • Affix a pet alert window cling.  Write down the number of pets inside your house and attach the static cling to a front window. This critical information saves rescuers time when locating your pets.  Make sure to keep the number of pets listed on them updated.
  • Keep Your Information Updated – Firefighters are familiar with pet alert window clings so keep the number of pets listed on them updated. Knowing the accurate number of pets in the house aids rescuers in finding all of your pets and provides important information so that firefighters do not put themselves or others in danger when rescuing pets.
  • Install Smoke Alarms and Ensure They Always Have Working Batteries – Change the batteries in your smoke alarm at least once a year and test it monthly to ensure it is functioning.
  • Consider Monitored Smoke Detection Services – Home monitoring services can provide an extra layer of protection for your pet by quickly alerting the fire department if there is an emergency.

Help firefighters to help your pets! Set them up for rescue success!

 

BE PREPARED. Have A PLAN.

  • Know their hiding places!   During a fire your pets will be terrified, and they’ll most likely run to in the places they feel most safe.  If you don’t know their common hiding places, you could run out of time to save your furry, scaly, or feathered friend.
  • Map it out!  Find their hidey-holes and niches. Map these out on a piece of paper, and include the map in your fire escape plan.
  • Always evacuate your pets on a leash or in a pet carrier. Pets will panic at the smell of smoke, and may bolt when outside, making them impossible to find.
  • Prepare an emergency kit for each of your animals. The kit should contain your pet’s food, veterinary paperwork, prescription medications, and an updated photo and description of each animal. You may have to board your pet at a kennel or other facility until you get settled after a fire, and they will require proof that your pet has current vaccinations.
  • Have an evacuation plan. If you have to evacuate your home, and you cannot return for a while, have a plan of action!

 

Get A Pet Alert Window Cling!

You can find them at Petco, and other pet stores.  The ASPCA distributes free alert stickers on their website!  It only takes a few seconds to request one!  I just ordered ours, and it will be arriving soon.

Order a FREE safety window decal for your family!
Order a FREE safety window decal for your family!

 

 

You can also choose from a variety of window clings here.

pet rescue stickers _fire_safety_ There are so many pet rescue stickers available for your home and your animal family!
There are so many pet rescue stickers available for your home and your animal family!

 

Get out and stay out.  If pets are still inside, every attempt will be made to rescue them.  Firefighters have the training, equipment and breathing protection to be in that environment.” ~ Fire Marshall Baker 

Many people have hamsters, parrots, rabbits, rats, and other companion animals. Use a window cling to help the firefighters to LOOK for them in your home!
Many people have hamsters, parrots, rabbits, rats, and other companion animals. Use a window cling to help the firefighters to LOOK for them in your home!

 


 “Planning for unexpected emergencies like home fires and taking these precautions are an integral part of responsible pet ownership.”

 

None of us wants to believe that “those things” can happen to us, but the statistics speak for themselves.  Accidents do happen. Faulty house wiring does occur.  We are forgetful by nature. Mother Nature can be brutal, so we must be prepared.

Have a plan. Be proactive. Our curious critters can cause more damage than you realize!

61371

Do you have eye for safety or are you blinded by bad habits?


Resources:

United States Fire Administration

Red Cross

ASPCA

 

Why Did The Turtle Cross The Road?

We are facing a turtle survival crisis unprecedented in its severity and risk. Humans are the problem, and must therefore also be the solution. Without concerted conservation action, many of the world’s turtles and tortoises will become extinct within the next few decades. It is now up to us to prevent the loss of these remarkable, unique jewels of evolution. ~ Turtle Conservation Coalition

turtle crossing road
Turtles on the road are on a mission! Help them accomplish their turtle mission!

World Turtle Day is May 23, so I wanted to remind everyone to be conscious of these very special animals that share the roads with us!  Where we live, we are surrounded by natural wetlands. But there are highways and roads that also surround these wetlands. This often means that native turtles do not fare well when they need to cross the busy roads.  I have seen far more than my share of injured and crushed turtles in the three years that we have lived here, and every time I find one, my heart breaks.  Many of these turtles are endangered or threatened species. Yet, most people don’t seem to know this, or don’t even care. This is where we come into play!  Helping one turtle across the road can be the difference between life and death for the animal, and for future generations.  Educating our friends and family is how we can save species.

Turtles and tortoises are among the world’s most endangered vertebrates, with about half their more than 300 species threatened with extinction. Only primates—human beings expected—are at greater risk of being wiped off the planet. 

April through October are the months that you will see many turtles actively crossing roads in the United States.  They do this for many reasons; in the spring, males are looking for females and territory to call their own.  May and June is nesting season.  At this time egg-bearing, female aquatic turtles leave the water to find terrestrial nesting sites, and this often requires crossing a road.  During late summer and fall, hatchling turtles are digging up from nests, looking for water.  Then later in the year males and females are heading to safe places for winter hibernation. Other times they will migrate to find a more suitable spot to live.

turtle road
Be a conscious driver and slow down for turtles such as this common snapping turtle!

 

The worst threat to snapping turtles is vehicle traffic. Each year many females get killed in their search for nesting sites. Often vehicles will not stop or even deliberately hit turtles because snapping turtles are disliked by many people. Nests on road sides and in gravel pits are often destroyed by vehicles and road grading. Hatchlings on their way back to the water are frequently run over. ~Tortoise Trust 

 

Our modern roads cut off generations old nesting grounds.
Our modern roads cut off generations old nesting grounds.

Although pre-dating dinosaurs by several million years, turtles everywhere are fast disappearing today. The “hide in my shell and wait it out” strategy that has enabled turtles to weather the geologic changes leading to the extinction of countless other species, however, has proven of little use in surviving the peril posed by fast moving trucks and cars. ~Dept. of Natural Resources

You can literally save a life – and even an entire species – by taking a few minutes out of our day to help them safely cross the road!

turtle crossing

How to help turtles safely across the road:

  • Safety First!  Busy roads and highways are dangerous for humans and animals.  Turn on your hazard lights and carefully pull off to the side of the road.  Make sure other drivers see you, before stepping onto the road.
  • Determine if the turtle is injured.  If he or she is injured, call your veterinarian to see if they will take it.  They may refer you to another vet that does accept injured wildlife.
  • Injured turtles:  If you see a turtle on the road that has been hit, PLEASE STOP to help it! He/she may not be dead!  Reptiles, especially turtles, have an extraordinary capacity to remain alive, even with severely injured.  They can do this because of their slow their metabolic rate.   The benefit of a low resting metabolism is that it requires far less fuel to sustain bodily functions.  This enables them to survive for long periods of time, even when injured!  Turtles can often survive, even if their shell is crushed, if they are given medical treatment in time. I have saved countless turtles who had been hit on the road by getting them to a vet in time.  Don’t let him/her just lay there suffering and baking in the sun!  Take them to a veterinary clinic near you.  Call the vet to let them know you are coming.  If the veterinarian does not have the ability to help you, they will send you to a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles and exotics, or wildlife specialist.  More about What to do if you find an injured turtle.   Check out some pictures of an injured turtle being repaired! 
  • When picking up a small to medium turtle, grasp it firmly and confidently on both sides of its shell between the front and rear legs (along its side).  Turtles have long legs and claws, so they might be able to kick at you, but don’t freak out.   Most will choose to stay safely tucked in their shell, during the brief time that you are moving them.
  • Keep the turtle low to the ground when moving them. Even small turtles have surprising strength.  If a turtle pushes free of your grip, you do not want it to fall and injure itself.
  • If it’s a very large turtle, it may be a snapping turtle, or a softshell turtle.  Both species can be large, heavy, and quite feisty.  They have a very wide reach with their neck and powerful jaws, so be careful.  I would not advise picking it up, but you can still help it cross the road by staying nearby – out of its way – while it continues to cross.  Let the passing cars see you and the turtle so they can safely go around you and the turtle. Learn more here about how to help snapping turtles and softshell turtles here. The video below demonstrates how to use your car mat to move one of these turtles safely across the road:

  • NEVER EVER PICK UP ANY TURTLE BY THE TAIL. This can severely injure them.
  • Place the turtle in the direction it was heading.  NEVER TURN THEM AROUND!  The turtle is on a mission and if you turn it around, it will just head back across the road when you are out of sight.
  • Do not move the turtle to a “better spot.”  Many people are tempted to relocate a turtle.   Turtles have a home range and females often return to the same general area to lay their eggs.  When relocated, they will often search for ways back to their “home base”.   Not only do these relocated turtles risk more road crossings, but if they cannot find their way back, will wander far and become lost.
  • Don’t be a Turtle-Napper!  Do not ever remove a turtle from its habitat.  They are not pets.  They belong in the wild.
  • Report turtle sightings to your local Fish and Game’s Reptile and Amphibian Reporting Program.
  • Work with land trusts and town officials to help conserve important natural areas in your community.
  • Recommended Resources:  

—>  You can save a turtle! A project by Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre

—>  Help a Turtle Across the Road [ Help A Turtle ] by the Minnesota Herpetological Society

—>  Roadways and Turtles: Solutions for Safety_flyer

—> Discover turtles and tortoises in your state!

—>  Turtle & Tortoise Species Specific Sites

—> A Field Guide to Turtles: Eastern and Central North America

 

 

Whatever the reason a turtle is traveling, their destination can take him or her miles away from where they live.  As humans continue to encroach upon their habitats, turtles will be crossing more roads.  Research has shown that aquatic turtle populations across the United States have uncommonly high proportions of males because so many female turtles are being killed on roadways.  Turtles have a long lifespan, take a long time to reach sexual maturity, and have low survivorship when newly hatched.  Because of these attributes, turtle populations cannot compensate for losses due to adult mortality without experiencing long-term consequences.  With turtle populations requiring high levels of adult survivorship, every individual is important to a population’s stability.  This concern is even greater in recent years because many U.S. turtle populations are becoming fragmented, isolated, and progressively smaller.

It’s up to each of us to ensure that turtle species stay abundant, healthy and safe!

Sammy the turtle crossing road

“For if one link in nature’s chain might be lost, another might be lost, until the whole of things will vanish by piecemeal.”– U.S. President Thomas Jefferson