WINTER SIGHTINGS (November to March)
An aspect of winter we are particularly appreciative of is that for at least 5 months of the year the Ontario turtles are safely off the roads. Unfortunately though it’s not all good news as even winter presents challenging circumstances for turtles that cannot be discounted.
With each passing year the impact climate change is having is more apparent by the increased frequency, duration and severity of temperature extremes and weather patterns that effect both humans and nature. These concerns include weather anomalies that can present spring like weather that may consist of a single day or a longer period of time during the winter months. It is the turtles response to these false spring like conditions that is reason for concern and why as we are sharing this information.
TURTLE WEATHER ALERT!
Although a warm day during December or any of the winter months is generally regarded as a welcomed break by us temperatures above zero can entice some turtles out of brumation (hibernation) and onto to ice covered bodies of water to bask in the sun. Most turtles would be able to retrace their route and find their way back under the ice. It is the turtles that are not able to that are of great concern. Turtles pre-maturely out of brumation (hibernation) are vulnerable and could easily be disoriented by the temperature dropping and/or a sudden change in weather. In such cases a turtle can end up ‘cold stunned’ and trapped on the ice. This runs the risk of exposure to plummeting nighttime temperatures and weather that a turtle would not be able to survive.
During your travels in a vehicle, on a snowmobile or on foot during any winter days that are warmer then would be expected for that time of the year please keep an eye out for dark colored objects against the background of snow and ice. It could be a displaced turtle!
Should you spot a turtle that has ventured out on to an ice covered body of water please take note. In most cases the turtle is no doubt basking and quite fine. Binoculars can help to determine a turtles behavior and well being. If a turtle spotted appears unresponsive and making no move to head back into the body of water under the ice especially with cooler night temperatures and/or a blast of snowy conditions eminent, this is concerning.
If able to confirm that the turtle is in need of help ‘PLEASE’ do not venture out on to a frozen body of water to attempt a turtle rescue unless you are absolutely sure of the stability of the ice. Any doubts, do not put yourself in danger! If a rescue is necessary contact people in your community that are experienced in such matters. The public resources available in every community are different so we are not able to suggest exactly who to call but an example might be the local fire department. It is very possible they will have trained staff or volunteers, as well as the equipment for ice rescues and will be familiar with the protocols in such emergencies. If not they may be able to point you in the right direction for assistance in your community.
When the turtle is retrieved it may appear lifeless and be considered dead. Please do not assume the turtle is dead! Turtles have the unique ability to rev down their metabolism to such a degree that they can appear lifeless. Even a fully qualified veterinarian observing this would find it necessary to use an ECG to determine if a turtle has a heartbeat or not. Please call the Ontario Turtle Conservation Center home to Ontario’s turtle hospital at 705-741-5000 as soon as possible if a turtle is rescued. The OTCC provides medical attention to the turtle species native to Ontario at no charge and can arrange transportation to get the turtle to the OTCC or one of the first responders they work with if you are not able to drive the turtle to the turtle hospital. Note: The OTCC winter hours are Monday to Sunday 9 – 5 pm with some holiday closures. Please leave a message if contacting them after hours.
Should you encounter wildlife other than turtles in distress please consult the Ontario Wildlife Rescue website for a wildlife rehabilitator in your area. It is a very helpful and informative website. The Wildlife Rescue Centres (Rehabilitation) listed on the site have been authorized by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. http://www.ontariowildliferescue.ca