Fun facts about turtles
By Monica Melichar
Special to the Times
Turtles, turtles, rah rah rah … ohhh, I love turtles!
There are eight species of turtles native to Ontario, and all of them are now federally listed as a species at risk. Amazingly, one third of Ontario’s entire turtle population finds this region the perfect habitat to live in! We are so fortunate to have seven species of them living right here among us. That’s why it is so very important that we protect these gentle dinosaurs.
Turtles wake up from hibernation sometime in
late April/early May and are at their busiest during the first two weeks
in June, especially around the full moon. This is the peak time for
females travelling to their regular nesting sites. It is also the most
dangerous time, as many are crossing roads to lay their eggs.
Incubation times vary depending on the weather conditions, but the eggs generally hatch in late summer or early fall. If they do hatch, the tiny newborns face huge life-threatening challenges, and only one in 100 make it to adulthood.
We all know that turtles can live a long time, but it also takes a long time for them to mature to breeding age ... up to 15 years!
This means that it can take 60 years for one adult snapping turtle to replace itself in the population. Yes, 60 years!
us, turtles love living here in the Highlands, it’s a beautiful place
to call home. However, our roads get busy with traffic and too many
turtles are paying the price. Do slow down and be on the lookout for
turtles crossing the roads. If it is safe, steer around them, but avoid
straddling larger turtles with your car, especially snappers. Their
instinct and first defence is to rise up on all four legs, swing their
heads up high and snap. They will be hit by the undercarriage of your
car and sustain severe head and carapace injuries.
If you can, and only if it is safe for you to do so, help a turtle to cross the road. Safely pull over and don’t forget to put your emergency flashers on. You can pick up and move turtles off the road, but make sure to transfer them in the direction they were travelling; otherwise, they will just turn around and cross the road again.
Young snapping turtles can also be picked up by their shell. Keep in mind though, that their heads can swing back up to three-quarters of the length of their body, so only pick them up from the rear end, facing away from you. I prefer to grasp the base of their tail, close to the body and use my other hand to slide underneath them, and then lifting them up, with most of their weight being on their plastron, or belly. This way I can safely keep them immobilized and they really cannot argue with me. Some people find carrying a plastic tote in their cars proves helpful. That way they can scoop the turtle into it, and if needed, it can be an excellent transport box, even for other injured wildlife.
Here some quick facts that you may not know about our turtles:
Their top shell, or carapace, is like hardened layers of skin and lined with sensory neurons, so they can actually feel you touching them!
Did you know turtles could freeze solid and live to talk about it? They have just enough stored antifreeze to survive if caught off guard, but only once in their lifetime. Some will freeze as hatchlings while still in the nest, before they emerge, and that is why sometimes you will see newborns in the early spring.
When hibernating, turtles do not bury themselves in the muck at the bottom of the pond, but rest and sleep in a safe area where the water circulates, as they must breathe through their cloaca, or posterior orifice.
Speaking of breathing, did you
know that the lungs of a turtle are located directly underneath the
shell? If their carapace has a crack, and water should seep in, there is
a chance that they may drown. Therefore, only house injured turtles on
damp towels, never in water.
If you need more info, Leora Berman runs a wonderful organization called The Turtle Guardians, located beside the Fish Hatchery in Haliburton, and can help. Their phone number is 705 457-1222
If you find an injured turtle, we are here to help so do bring it to our sanctuary. You would be surprised how resilient these amazing reptiles can be.
Monika Melichar runs the Woodlands Wildlife Sanctuary in Minden Hills, a volunteer-based charity that rehabilitates and releases sick, orphaned and injured wildlife back into the wild. To find out more about the sanctuary, go to woodlandswildlifesanctuary.ca.