Saving Painted Turtles, with Paint

Kieran Lindsey

Kieran Lindsey | May 12, 2017

Drivers ignore wildlife crossing signs. So says the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), although the situation is certainly not unique to the Badger State—distracted drivers are a threat to humans and non-human creatures alike, regardless of their states of residency. 

We don’t intentionally ignore warning signs out of blatant disregard for our fellow Earthlings. It’s just that our brains evolved to notice novelty and ignore everyday sights and sounds. Think you’re the exception? Ask yourself if you’ve ever arrived at work and had the unsettling realization that you don’t remember anything between leaving your driveway and pulling into the office parking lot.

"I never see wildlife on my commute... I barely even notice the pedestrians!"

Add to our evolutionary adaptations the fact that capturing a driver’s attention is even more challenging in the 21st century, complete with ringing and pinging cell phones, navigation displays, and in-car entertainment systems. Installing flashing lights, high-tech motion detectors, wildlife overpasses and underpasses, fences and other barriers on our roads is expensive and hard to maintain. Not to mention, research data on these methods suggest they’re not very good at competing with the sounds and flashing lights inside our vehicles.

With all of this in mind, Wisconsin’s concerned citizens and wildlife rehabilitators in Waukesha County decided to put their heads together and apply a little creativity to the problem of asking motorists to give turtles a "brake"… and they came up with a low-cost, decidedly low-tech approach that appears to be working.

Turtle-shaped paint applied directly to the pavement. (Photo: WTMJ-TV)

Lisa Rowe, Director of Operations at the Wildlife in Need Center in Oconomowoc, reports there’s been a significant drop in admission of turtles injured by automobiles since these painted turtles began hanging out on the highways and byways.

Waukesha’s innovative approach to road signs could be combined with another Wisconsin turtle initiative to even greater effect. Conservation biologist Andrew Badje’s Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program (WTCP) received a grant from WDNR in 2011-12 and began collecting road and railroad crossing observations submitted by citizen scientists. Anyone can report turtle sightings and share photos on the WTCP website or by mailing a printable reporting form.

The database has been used to create a statewide map of high turtle mortality areas and roads that could really use a new coat of paint.

(André Karwath/Wikimedia)


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