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Help Turtles In Summer
The following are 'TURTLE' related notes we have assembled with an emphasis on 'Helping Ontario's Turtles' during late spring and into the summer months. It is our hope you find this resource useful and informative this turtle season and thereafter.
(1) NESTING SEASON
(2) WHEN NESTING MAY OCCUR
(3) NESTING PROCESS
(4) GIVE TURTLES SPACE
(5) AFTER NESTING
(6) NEST PROTECTION
(8) INCUBATION PERIOD
(9) ACCIDENTALLY HOOKED A TURTLE
(10) REPORT TURTLE SIGHTINGS
(1) NESTING SEASON: The Ontario turtles typically nest from mid-May to mid-July. June is the 'peak' month for nesting. During this period the number of turtles that cross roads increases significantly. Both females and males will be on the move. Most turtle species lay eggs annually. Blanding's turtle females have been known to lay eggs every other year and some turtles lay twice in one nesting season. A female snapping turtle for example will typically lay her eggs in early summer. Depending on when she mated, egg-laying may extend into autumn.
(2) WHEN NESTING MAY OCCUR: Nesting activity accompanied by increased road crossings is more apt to occur …
In the early mornings through to about noon. Turtles are less likely to be on the move during the afternoon if it is hot and sunny but exceptions are always possible.
In the evenings as the hot afternoon temperatures begin to come down. Nesting turtles are known to sometimes use the milder evening/night temperatures and protective cover of darkness to lay their eggs.
During light, intermittent showers and/or after it rains 'regardless of the time of day' nesting activity will often increase. Rainy and humid days should put drivers on high turtle alert!
Although the rain is more inclined to encourage us indoors this is not the case for the turtles during nesting season.
There are several reasons turtle behavior aligns with the rain, especially during nesting season. These include; (a) turtles are highly aquatic and increased moisture simulates an environment they are most akin to, (b) turtles are more apt to be on the move when the risk of dehydration and/or overheating is diminished, and (c) the rain may cause water levels to raise facilitating the turtle movements in the wetlands, especially snapping turtles, (d) the ground is softer and easier to dig a nest to lay eggs, and (e) rain will help erase most of the visual clues from the nesting site and (f) help dissipate the scent that lingers after a female has nested. All indicators suggest that turtles are very much in tune with their environment and although they do not remain with the nest as do other animal species they do make choices that give the nest the best possible chance of surviving.
(3) NESTING PROCESS: The nesting process involves the female turtle searching for her preferred nest location, digging the nest, laying the eggs, and burying the nest. Sometimes a turtle will dig in several locations looking for just the right spot. If a spot does not meet with her approval she will move on to another spot and start digging. These are known as test nests. Research and studies have deduced that at times female turtles dig a series of test nests before digging the actual nest they will lay their eggs to camouflage the real nest from predators. Depending on the species, temperature, and individual turtle nesting can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours or longer. The duration will depend on the number of eggs the turtle is laying and the individual turtle.
(4) GIVE TURTLES SPACE: If you observe a turtle nesting give her space to ensure the nesting process is not disturbed. It is recommended that you keep at least 10 meters between you and the nesting turtle. If you have a dog with you it is best to remove your canine companion from the area. The presence of people being too close and/or a dog can be stressful for a turtle and cause her to abandon the nest without laying all her eggs or filling in the nest which could leave the eggs especially vulnerable.
When turtles have eggs, they have to expel them. If they don't, they can get 'egg bound,' also known as suffering from egg retention or dystocia. It can be life-threatening. A turtle disturbed while nesting may even dump her eggs into the water. Fertile eggs dumped into the water will die in short order as they drown. If you find turtle eggs in the water, it is recommended that retrieve you them if it is safe for you to do so and call the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre at 705-741-5000.
(5) AFTER NESTING: After the female turtle has finished nesting and covered her nest, observe the direction she heads. If she intends to cross the road please help ensure she gets safely across the road when and if it is safe for you to do so. Nesting is physically draining so a female turtle after nesting will move slower than usual and dehydrated making her more vulnerable when crossing roads. If you assist a turtle across the road it is imperative to make 'SAFETY YOUR #1 PRIORITY' for your sake as well as the motorists counting on you to make wise and safe choices. Be sure to move the turtle in the direction she was headed. Note: Sometimes female turtles after nesting will begin to head in a straight line away from the nest giving the impression that is the direction the turtle intends to go. Hang back and be sure, snapping turtles are often observed moving in a straight line away from the nest and then they do a '360' which results in the turtle heading in the opposite direction.
(6) NEST PROTECTION: It is widely reported that as many as ninety percent of all turtle nests are destroyed by predators, weather events and conditions, accidental disturbances, and other factors. We know that many eggs do not hatch and many babies do not live long. So any nest that is protected may have a positive impact on the survival of a new generation of local turtles. If a turtle nests on your property you 'are allowed' to install a turtle nest protector and are encouraged to do so as a contribution to species recovery efforts in your community. Should you observe a turtle nesting on private property you do not own or public property such as a road shoulder, roadside, park, etc. as per property ownership, jurisdiction bylaws, motorists/cyclists/pedestrians safety and liability turtle nest protectors are 'NOT' permitted to be installed. Should you install a nest protector without permission and there is an accident you would be held responsible and liable for any damage or injuries caused.
We are fortunate in Ontario to be able to protect turtle nests on our property. It is an opportunity to help species at risk some provinces do not have. We ask that people focus on protecting the turtle nests that 'CAN' be protected and they have permission to do so. As tough as it is to not be able to protect all nests nature does have its own set of checks and balances that are to be respected and part of this includes turtle eggs having a role in sustaining other species.
How To Make A Nest Protector
Where To Buy Turtle Nest Protectors
(7) PREDATION: Turtles exhibit nest site fidelity. This means they return to the same place every year to lay their eggs or nest sites they have successfully nested at. Unfortunately, this makes the nests easy targets for predators that inhabit that area knowing where and when there will be a feast of turtle eggs available to them. With nests being destroyed year after year this can potentially stretch back decades and mean little if any chance of localized species recovery to make up for losses. Coupled with a location that is a hot spot for road mortality this can contribute to population declines that stand no chance of being reversed. For this reason, attempting to help even predated nests is important.
Eggshells scattered around the ground are a telltale sign that a predator such as a raccoon, fox, skunk, mink, rodent, snake, crow, gull, etc. found a nest. Dogs have even been known to accidentally dig up nests and eat turtle eggs. If you find a predated nest on your property or during your travels it is recommended that you move the eggs shells from the immediate area they have been dug up, fill in the exposed nest, and smooth over the surface of the nest site to remove the visual cues. The reason for doing this is that in the feeding frenzy there is always the possibility that an egg or two might have got missed by predators. With the nest covered up and possibly human scent introduced at the site nature may just find a way for those one or two eggs to survive and produce hatchlings that will emerge from the nest from August to October.
If a nest is observed dug up with fresh eggshells on the ground mid-May to mid-July being nesting season this is a nest predators got to 'NOT' a nest that has just hatched. If a nest is observed dug up with eggshells on the ground August to October being the time many turtle hatchlings emerge there are a couple of different scenarios to consider. Firstly, the nest may have been detected and the hatchlings were eaten by the predator. Secondly, the outcome that is hoped for is that the hatchlings may have been able to make clean break for the water, and their nest was dug up 'AFTER' they exited the nest.
(8) INCUBATION PERIOD: The incubation period for turtle nests is 60 to 90 days from the day the female turtle laid her eggs (clutch). This is a general guideline. When a nest will hatch is dependent on the turtle species, where the nest is located, the amount of sunlight, moisture, temperatures the nest is subjected to, environmental factors and so much more. A warm summer can speed up the incubation period. A cooler summer and/or erratic temperatures and weather patterns can cause the hatchlings to be slower showing up but in the end, we're on turtle time.
There are many factors that affect the outcome of the clutch size (number of eggs) and incubation period for the eight species of turtles native to Ontario in regards to nesting variance is usual. Please view the following as a general guideline;
Blanding's Turtle Painted Turtle – 4 to 13 oval-shaped eggs, 60 to 90 days from the date the female turtle nested.
Eastern Musk Turtle 'Stinkpot' – 2 to 5 oval-shaped eggs 60 to 90 days.
Northern Map Turtle – 7 to 23 oval-shaped eggs, 60 to 90 days and hatchlings sometimes remain in the nest cavity until the spring, called 'overwintering.'
Painted Turtle – 3 to 15 oval-shaped eggs, 60 to 90 days, and hatchlings often remain in the nest cavity until the spring, called 'overwintering.'
Snapping Turtle – 6 to 104 round-shaped eggs, 80 to 90 days.
Spiny-Soft Shell – 3 to 43 round-shaped eggs, 55 to 100 days.
Spotted Turtle – 2 to 8 oval-shaped eggs, 55 to 80 days, and hatchlings may remain in the nest cavity until the spring, called 'overwintering.'
Wood Turtle – 4 to 12 oval-shaped eggs, 60 to 90 days.
(9) ACCIDENTALLY HOOKED A TURTLE: If you accidentally hook a turtle, please do not cut the line!
A fishing hook left intact could affect a turtle's ability to forage for food and go about their routine activities. If a hook were to be swallowed it could get lodged in the turtle's throat or gastrointestinal tract. This would be especially agonizing for a turtle and prove fatal. Turtles sometimes get hooks embedded in their shell, a joint, bone or muscle, legs, an eye, and head. Untreated external and internal injuries, malnourishment, and/or infections can lead to a sickly, diseased turtle, affecting bodily functions, reproductive capabilities, and in some cases the health of other turtles and the body of water.
Turtle Hooked On Your Fishing Line? Here's What To Do
POINT TO NOTE: Mid-August through to mid-October is typically when turtle hatchlings emerge from their nest.
(10) REPORT TURTLE SIGHTINGS: Officially reporting hatchling, juvenile, or adult turtle sightings dead or alive is very important! This enables conservation agencies and wildlife conservation organizations involved in species-at-risk studies to identify and better understand the distribution of the various turtle species and the factors that affect their activities. With access to this type of data and research, they can identify areas that would most benefit from the installation of permanent mitigation measures such as underpasses and fencing as well as assess the suitability of pre-existing culverts that could be reworked to serve as an effective mitigation site. Having this data also helps with efforts to convince the respective governments to implement mitigation measures such as exclusion fencing, eco passages, and alternate nesting sites.
If you are not already reporting turtle sightings please check out the various citizen science programs listed below alphabetically to acquaint yourself with the kind of information you will need to supply. Photo documentation is always recommended to substantiate your sighting and the type of turtle. Note: If taking a photo of a turtle you will be assisting across a road please ensure your safety by taking a photo of the turtle 'after' you have moved the turtle off the road and you are both safe as far over on the shoulder as possible and out of harm's way. Reporting sightings is free and each program is particularly user friendly.
iNaturalist – This Canada-wide citizen science program is a community-based tool. Your observations will be vetted by researchers, experts, and other citizen scientists. Submit your species at risk observations to iNaturalist by clicking the 'add observations button' on the project home page. https://www.inaturalist.org/
Natural Heritage Information Centre (NHIC) – Submit your species at risk observations to the 'NHIC' project on iNaturalist by clicking the 'add observations button' on the project home page. If you prefer to compile your records in a spreadsheet, email it to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. https://www.ontario.ca/page/report-rare-species-animals-and-plants
Ontario Turtle Tally – This is a fun, easy turtle monitoring project for people of all ages through the Toronto Zoo's Adopt-A-Pond Wetlands Conservation Program. It's a great activity for schools, families, cottagers, and community and naturalist groups across the province. Report your turtle sightings by entering your observations into the online database. The purpose is to collect, record and store location and species information on Ontario turtles, including species at risk. https://report.adoptapond.ca/
Road Warrior Program - Eco-Kare International has launched the 'Road Warrior Program.' Eco-Kare translates the data submitted for decision-makers to aid in planning, designing, monitoring and solutions that reduce the negative impacts of roads on wildlife. Their website includes a: How to be a Road Warrior video https://eco-kare.com/road-worrior/ Sign up on their website to receive monthly/quarterly ROAD WARRIOR newsletters, training video updates, and in the short-term, indicate how we can help you, e.g. technical help, where to collect data, workshops, presentations, etc.
Turtle Guardians – The Turtle Guardians citizen science and recovery program is designed with kids in mind, adults will equally enjoy these features. Report turtle sightings and track how many you helped. Pass the turtle test to get your ID card. For anyone preferring not to report through a mobile device, they have an Online Sighting Report Form. You will also be asked if you would like your sighting information sent to government agencies. https://www.turtleguardians.com/sighting-report-form/
Note: A point to mention that some people may not be aware of is that if you find an injured turtle and the turtle is admitted to the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre (OTCC) you 'do not need to report that turtle' to a citizen science programs such as iNaturalist, Ontario Turtle Tally, NHIC or Turtle Guardians. The OTCC officially reports every turtle admitted to the Natural Heritage Information Centre (NHIC). If you do report the turtle encounter/sighting this would be a duplicate reported sighting and contributes to skewing data for the year and regions turtles are located.
To make the most of all your turtle encounters including turtles admitted to OTCC please share this information with local conservation organizations involved in nest protection, interim mitigation measures such as awareness signage, and permanent mitigation measures like assessing and implementing underpasses. Be sure the organization is made aware the information you are sharing will be officially reported by the OTCC.
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 send an e-mail to email@example.com. 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.