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Help Turtles In Autumn
The following are 'TURTLE' related notes we have assembled with an emphasis on 'Helping Ontario's Turtles' during the final weeks of summer and into the fall. It is our hope you find this resource useful and informative this turtle season and thereafter.
(1) HATCHLINGS ARRIVE
(2) FOUND A HATCHLING
(3) RELEASING HATCHLINGS
(4) DON'T TAKE HATCHLINGS HOME
(5) PETS & TURTLES
(6) SLOW NESTS
(7) NEST FAILURES
(9) NEST PROTECTORS (End of Season)
(10) TURTLES ON THE MOVE (End of Season)
(1) HATCHLINGS ARRIVE: Mid-August through to mid-October is typically when hatchlings emerge from the nest. Keep an eye out for turtle hatchlings on roads, ATV trails, bike paths, driveways, parking areas, fire pits, building sites, etc. Please be sure to check your lawn and gardens before starting any seasonal maintenance. If you spot one hatchling check the area for the nest. Where there is one hatchling there could easily be more and not necessarily on the same day. Some nests hatch out in one-day others over a few days. We have on occasion had as much as two weeks pass before the last hatchlings emerged from the nest.
(2) FOUND A HATCHLING: Assisting a hatchling from the area the nest is located to its intended body of water is allowed and helpful. This will enable hatchlings to bypass a vast array of predators they could encounter on-route and increase their chances of survival. From the nest to the water hatchlings could face predators from the air and on land. This could include; crows, mink, skunks, foxes, seagulls, raccoons, herons, egrets, hawks, owls, fishers, bullfrogs, snakes, and even dogs and cats, etc. Once in the water large fish, otters, even large snapping turtles and all manner of other aquatic inhabitants could be lying in wait to snack on hatchlings.
(3) RELEASING HATCHLINGS: DO NOT take hatchlings far away from where they were found, also known as the point of origin. Turtle hatchlings need to be put into the same area because (1) Diseases and bacteria from one body of water could affect another and thus affect its wildlife negatively. (2) Female turtles take great care when choosing nesting sites and we should respect that. This area was chosen for a reason.
Should you find a hatchling take it to the nearest slow-moving body of water within 1 km of the point of origin, as specified and required by the MNRF, in the direction the hatchling was headed. Handle turtle hatchlings carefully and as little as possible, their shells are soft and pliable. A grip that is firm enough to avoid dropping the hatchling but gentle will suffice. Do not handle turtles if you have recently used hand sanitizer. Gloves are recommended.
Scout out a spot within the water body that has a suitable entry point for the hatchling to make its way into the water, has a shallow area, and with vegetation and/or leafy debris that will serve as protective covering and offer resting sites for the hatchlings. 'DO NOT' release hatchings into open water! There will be predators most assuredly lying in wait. Hatchlings will spend much of their early years hiding until they have gained some size and girth and are not so vulnerable to predators.
The hatchling should be placed at the water's edge or a shallow entry point where the hatchling can enter the water at its own pace. If a hatchling is put in water that is more than 2 inches deep to start with and there is no vegetation to cling on to the hatchling will have to tread water. A hatchling can only tread water for so long. Should a hatchling be released into water that is too deep and has no vegetation this could contribute to drowning.
Should there be a multiply of hatchlings to release spread them around the body of water. If possible 10 feet apart. This will reduce the chances of predators locating clusters of turtles and increase the number of hatchlings that survive.
Note: The body of water should also be one there is no risk of it freezing solid during the winter.
(4) DON'T TAKE HATCHLINGS HOME: Do not remove hatchlings from the area you found them to take them to put in your pond or a friend's pond. Do not take a hatchling home to be a pet. "REMOVING TURTLES FROM THE WILD IN ONTARIO IS ILLEGAL!"
It is wonderful to learn of children spending time outdoors connecting with nature. If you have children, or grandchildren or spend time with children in a working capacity it is important to teach them that hatchlings observed in the wild should be left in the wild. They are 'not' lonely or looking for their mother or a friend.
It is illegal to keep native species as pets and they need to be in the wild to help contribute to their populations and fulfill their special role in maintaining ecological balance. Hatchlings are born with an innate sense of what it is they need to do to survive.
The Ontario turtles are a species at risk. Under Ontario's Fish & Wildlife Conservation Act, there is a maximum fine of $25,000 for removing turtles from the wild and/or harming them. If buying or selling a species at risk, the penalty is a fine of up to $100,000. To report violations call the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry TIPS LINE at 1-877-TIPS-MNRF (847-7667) or Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-222-8477.
(5) PETS & TURTLES: It is a sad fact but sometimes our beloved pets can cause stress, injury, or death to a turtle at varying stages of development (egg, hatchling, juvenile, or adult).
The family dog may have never hurt a fly but in the course of routine outdoor activities unfortunately encounters do occur between dogs and turtles (eggs, hatchling, juvenile, and adult). Dogs have been known to accidentally dig up turtle nests, eat turtle eggs, view a hatchling, juvenile or adult turtle as a chew toy, and in some cases given the dog(s) concerned the encounter surpasses curiosity or playfulness and is an attack on a turtle.
If an injury to a turtle was caused by your cat or dog please do not feel uncomfortable or embarrassed to call the turtle hospital. It is unfortunate when and if this happens but by doing what you can to get proper medical attention for the injured turtle this gives the turtle the best possible chance of surviving. This is important to species recovery efforts and ensuring future generations of turtles.
(6) SLOW NESTS: Sometimes nests can be slow to hatch out. DO NOT help hatchlings out of a nest cavity. They could still be absorbing their yolk sacks and emerging too soon can be deadly. Scrapes and cuts to their yolk sacks could cause infections if put into the water too soon. It is also illegal to tamper with turtle nests without proper permits.
We have had hatchlings show up as late as Thanksgiving and even a bit later. This is not surprising as we are on 'TURTLE TIME' and must let nature unfold as intended. If you installed a nest protector or you know of a nest and the 60 to 90 days incubation period has since passed please 'DO NOT' dig up the nest. Digging up nests before the eggs are ready to hatch may be enough to disrupt the natural incubation cycle and result in their death. It is important to note that it is illegal for citizens to disturb or move turtle eggs, remove them from the nest, be in possession of turtle eggs, and/or attempt to incubate them. Only individuals and groups that have been issued a permit from the Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry for research and conservation purposes are permitted to handle eggs in conjunction with the hatchling head starting program and/or research they are involved in and permitted to carry out.
(7) NEST FAILURES: It is unfortunate but each year despite the attentive efforts put into protecting turtle nests and monitoring them there are some nest failures. This can be due to the eggs not being fertilized, location or environmental challenges that prevent development, and/or improper nest protection being used (e.g. plastic crate/wooden palette) that prevents the nest from getting enough sun, air circulation, or moisture. It is always important to remember the nest is a living breathing entity as such has specific requirements that need to be met to survive the incubation period. Wood frame nest protectors are the preferred choice for people looking to protect a turtle nest on their property.
(8) OVERWINTERING: If wondering why the turtle nest you have been so attentive to has not hatched by Thanksgiving it might be because the hatchlings have chosen to overwinter. The onset of cooler temperatures as fall sets will prompt some turtle hatchlings to stay in their nest for their first winter. This is behavior more typical of painted turtles and map turtles but other turtle hatchling species such as snapping turtles and Blanding's turtles resort to this survival tactic as well. The rate of success in these cases will vary due to the harshness of the winter and some turtle species are not as resilient under such conditions. Overwintering brings hope for many little turtles in the spring to look forward to.
(9) NEST PROTECTORS (End of Season): If a turtle nest you protected with a nest protector has not hatched out by the end of October (Halloween) or into November before snow sets in it is our recommendation that you remove the nest protector. Mark the nest in some way on the surface so it will be easily identifiable and the nest protector can be reinstalled in the early spring. This will of course involve diligently monitoring the nest site again as the temperatures warm up and snow recedes. Note: Keep in mind that whatever you use to mark the nest will need to be able to withstand snow and snow clearing if applicable. We often use golf tees as markers as they can be pushed into the ground flush with the surface. A secondary marker can't hurt as well once the snow shows up. Note: Nest protectors left in place once covered by snow could pose a safety concern and run the risk of encounters with snowplows.
Should you decide to keep a nest protector installed that is on your property because there is no chance of any kind of interference this is acceptable but the nest site should still be checked especially if during the winter there are 'ANY' unusual warm weather spells and thawing please check on the nest as anomalies cannot be predicted. When spring begins to set in, snow melts and the nest is again exposed and subject to the warmth of the sun 'PLEASE' be very vigilant about monitoring the nest site. Be sure to remove the hatchling exit door if you will be going away and cannot find someone to monitor the nest for hatchling activity in your absence.
POINT TO NOTE: Please be 'ALERT' to the increased potential of turtles crossing roads in the fall and even into early November, depending on the temperatures and weather patterns.
(10) TURTLES ON THE MOVE (End of Season): In response to the cooler temperatures setting in towards the end of September to October, the weather patterns and the seasonal shift from autumn to winter the turtles will be on the move and headed to their winter habitat. For some, this will be a short journey for others longer but during these travels, there is always a distinct possibility of having to cross the roads.
If during your travels you find an 'INJURED' turtle please call the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre home of Ontario's turtle hospital (OTCC) at 705-741-5000 as soon as you have retrieved the turtle and have it in your possession. The OTCC is located in Peterborough and they admit turtles from anywhere in Ontario. The OTTC will provide medical care at 'no' charge and have turtle taxi volunteers to assist with transportation if you are not able to drive the turtle to the OTCC. If interested in being a 'Turtle Taxi' volunteer visit www.ontarioturtle.ca for more details.
Please remind 'EVERYONE' in your household and visitors to your community to be mindful of the wildlife we share the roads with. Thank you most ardently for the ways you help Ontario's turtles, other wildlife, and their habitat.
If you have any turtle-related matters do not hesitate to contact Think Turtle Conservation Initiative at 647-606-9537 (phone/text) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For additional information about helping turtles check out our website at www.thinkturtle.ca, follow us on Facebook, and/or read our WordPress Blog posts.