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The Perilous Life of a Nesting Turtle

Turtle Nesting season is winding down, but there are still some on the move finding nesting sites or going back to their wetlands.  Here are some things to remember: The reason we see so many turtles on the roads at this time of year is that females are looking for that perfect place to lay their eggs.  Their eggs require a very specific environment to hatch:  Well-drained, gravelly-to-sandy areas such as those found along a road are perfect.

 

(Nesting takes several hours.  We caught about seven minutes of that and have condensed it to a 37 second timelapse.  Video by Toby Rowland)

Females will cross roads in search of the best place to lay eggs, and males and juveniles will also be on the move as wetlands dry out and they go in search of better habitat.  

With all these Turtles on the move, we have to be especially vigilant while driving and if you see one attempting to cross the road we have a few tips on how to help: 

  • Park in a safe place (with your hazards on)
  • Check for traffic before moving the turtle
  • Be careful when handling turtles, avoid their heads, and keep in mind the claws can be sharp.  If you find a Snapper then watch this video first for help  
  • Move the turtle in the direction they were going (or they will just cross back again)
  • Wash or sanitize your hands

Here’s an excellent video by the Nature Conservancy of Canada on how to help move a turtle across the road.  Click the photo at left to watch.  

Another thing you may encounter is a Turtle in the midst of laying her eggs, such as in the video above.  She will have spent hours finding the perfect location and needs to finish laying in her own time, so just let her be. 

Sometimes you will find a Turtle that has already been hit and in those situations you can follow these steps to help get it to the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre where it will get medical treatment and be released back into the wild.  Scales Nature Park in Orillia will  accept injured turtles and facilitate transportation to the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre.  Call the Scales Nature Park Turtle Hotline:  (705) 955-4284.  To read more about Scales Nature Park Conservation Programs, click here.  

This time of year, you may want to keep a box, rubber gloves, hand sanitizer, and a flat shovel for Snappers in the trunk of your car so you are prepared to help the next turtle you come across.  

Of the Turtles we have in Ontario, the ones you are most likely to encounter on the road are: 

  • Snapping Turtles
  • Midland Painted Turtles
  • Blanding’s Turtles

The only time it is appropriate to pick up a turtle is to help it cross the road or because it is injured.  Otherwise, observe from a respectful distance.  

Who to report your sightings to:

If you find a turtle on a Conservancy property, please try and get a photo and report it to us:  citizensci@couchconservancy.ca

We use the information to help steward our nature reserves, and also pass the information along to the Ontario Nature Reptile and Amphibian Atlas (ORAA), as well as the Natural Heritage Information Centre (NHIC).  The NHIC is the official organization of record for Species at Risk in Ontario.  

If you find a turtle anywhere else, you can use the Ontario Nature Reptile and Amphibian Atlas (ORAA) app to report your sightings.