A Wisconsin Underpass Is Saving the Lives of Countless Turtles


My husband is a turtle-lover. We’ve stopped on countless roads so that he can run out into traffic to save a turtle that probably wouldn’t have made it safely to the opposite side without help, and it stinks when he doesn’t get there in time.

It turns out there must be someone in the Wisconsin Departments of Transportation and Natural Resources who loves turtles, too, because in 2016 they partnered with the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point to create a tunnel beneath Highway 66.


The tunnel was designed to cut down on the number of turtles who died attempting to cross the highway, according to Robert Mentzer for Wisconsin Public Radio.

On one side of the tunnel is Jordan Pond and on the other, wetlands – natural turtle habitat. But while plenty of turtles would surely see the tunnel, scientists still had the problem of convincing them to use it.

Enter herpetologist and associate professor of biology Pete Zani, who suggested they install aluminum flashing outside of each opening. It’s meant to reflect the sky and let the turtles know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel (and not the kind they would see if they were smashed by a car up above).

He also had them install grates above the tunnel to make it less shadowy and a small cul-de-sac in a piece of fencing to give turtles who missed the entrance somewhere to turn around.

Zani stuck around to monitor the success of the “underpass” and found that, in the first year, 85% fewer turtles were killed on the road, and no babies turtles met their end there. Now, in the almost 3 years the tunnel has been operational, only 40 turtles have died on the highway total.

Other animals, like rodents, mink, skunks, raccoons, and house cats have also taken advantage of the tunnel, researchers have noticed on the trail cameras.


But not everyone – not even all turtles – can be convinced to take the low road, it turns out. Only 30% of snapping turtles and 20% of painted turtles go through, and those numbers aren’t changing.

“They either get it or they don’t,” Zuni told WPR.

I guess the tunnel is kind of like forced evolution for turtles. You learn…or you die.