Of Ontario’s eight native species of turtles, seven are at risk of extinction. Many people may not recognize the need to protect these shy, quiet animals but they are an integral part of our wetland and aquatic environments whether they are predator or prey. They are among the longest-lived organisms on the planet (some species in Ontario can live to be more than 90 years old). As an example, snapping turtles can take up to 20 years to mature but, once mature, snappers can expect to live up to another 100 years (but this seldom happens). Mortality of eggs and hatchlings is often 100%. It is amazing that any of these animals survive at all given the problems they face, mostly from human activity.
During the egg stage, turtles are susceptible to many natural predators such as raccoons, foxes, skunks, weasels and dogs (to name a few). If they are lucky enough to hatch, it is usually a precarious journey to the water’s edge. Once in the water, there are many natural predators who would like to feast on these defenceless little creatures. There are many other dangers in the water due to human activity including boat propellers but the real and major threats are our thousands of kilometers of roads. Female turtles love to dig nests in the gravel alongside our country roads and highways but few adults or babies survive.
In late spring to early summer in Ontario (May-July) females are regularly hit by cars during migrations to find suitable nesting habitats while males are also hit in early spring when moving overland between wetlands in search of females. Sadly, turtles injured by a vehicle collision seldom survive without special medical treatment and long periods of rehabilitation.
If you do happen to see a turtle crossing the road in front of your vehicle, pull over to the side of the road if it is clear and you can safely do so. Flashing your hazard lights will help alert oncoming traffic to slow down. Smaller turtles can simply be picked up and carried to safety whereas larger turtles require more caution. Carry the turtle low to the ground – they have sharp claws and are very strong, so be careful not to drop them. Never carry a turtle by the tail – stay to the rear (they can bite) and drag or carry big ones by the shell. Remember to always carry the turtle in the same direction it was headed; otherwise it will simply turn around and start crossing the road again.
If you see an injured turtle, there are a number of organizations that can help. You should be able to find one in your area by checking on the Internet. Please be extra alert, especially in the spring, when you see the yellow Turtle Crossing signs. These signs indicate areas where turtles may be crossing the road from one wetland to another. If you know of a location near your property where turtles often cross the road, you can install a crossing sign but you would probably need permission from your local municipality. For information on crossing signs and for information on helping our turtles, check out the torontozoo.com/adoptapond website. You can also report turtle sightings on this website.
I hope this column is a timely reminder to slow down and be careful on the roads this spring. Please help – the turtles need you!
Just a few days ago, Pat Grace (Frontenac County’s turtle man) reported his first sighting in 2017 of a 10 cm. Painted Turtle on the causeway of Mica Point Road as seen in the accompanying photo.
Gloria and Peter Smiley spotted a Long Tailed Weasel on April 3rd running across their yard on the south side of Kennebec Lake near the Henderson Road. At that time, the weasel still had its white winter coat so the only contrast against the snow was the black tip at the end of its tail.
Recently, David Fiske of Sydenham noticed a Rufous-sided Towhee eating seeds that had fallen on the ground from his feeder.