The Norman Transcript

Nation/World

December 30, 2012

Student’s turtle study takes dark twist

(Continued)

CLEMSON, S.C. —

Among the possible solutions: turtle underpasses or an education campaign aimed at teenagers on why drivers shouldn’t mow turtles down.

The first time Weaver went out to collect data on turtles, he chose a spot down the road from a big apartment complex that caters to students. He counted 267 vehicles that passed by, seven of them intentionally hitting his rubber reptile.

He went back out about a week later, choosing a road in a more residential area. 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,” Weaver said.

Other cars during the hour missed the turtle. But right after his observation period was up, before Weaver could retrieve the model, another car moved to the right to hit the animal as he stood less than 20 feet away.

“One hit in 50 cars is pretty significant when you consider it might take a turtle 10 minutes to cross the road,” Weaver said.

Running over turtles even has a place in Southern lore.

In South Carolina author Pat Conroy’s semi-autobiographical novel “The Great Santini,” a fighter-pilot father squishes turtles during a late-night drive when he thinks his wife and kids are asleep. His wife confronts him, saying: “It takes a mighty brave man to run over turtles.”

The father denies it at first, then claims he hits them because they are a road hazard. “It’s my only sport when I’m traveling,” he says. “My only hobby.”

That hobby has been costly to turtles.

It takes a turtle seven or eight years to become mature enough to reproduce, and in that time, it might make several trips across the road to get from one pond to another, looking for food or a place to lay eggs. A female turtle that lives 50 years might lay over 100 eggs, but just two or three are likely to survive to reproduce, said Weaver’s professor, Rob Baldwin.

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