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 ofOntario’s entire turtle population finds this region the perfect habitat to live in! We are so fortunate to have seven species of them livingright here among us. That’s why it is so very important that we protectthese gentle dinosaurs.
Turtles wake up from hibernation sometime inlate 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 forfemales travelling to their regular nesting sites. It is also the mostdangerous time as many are crossing roads to lay their eggs.
Incubation times vary depending on the weather conditions but the eggs generallyhatch in late summer or early fall. If they do hatch the tiny newbornsface huge life-threatening challenges and only one in 100 make it toadulthood.
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 15years!
This means that it can take 60 years for one adult snapping turtle to replace itself in the population. Yes 60 years!
Like us turtles love living here in the Highlands it’s a beautiful placeto call home. However our roads get busy with traffic and too manyturtles are paying the price. Do slow down and be on the lookout forturtles crossing the roads. If it is safe steer around them but avoidstraddling larger turtles with your car especially snappers. Theirinstinct and first defence is to rise up on all four legs swing theirheads up high and snap. They will be hit by the undercarriage of yourcar and sustain severe head and carapace injuries.
If you can andonly 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 justturn around and cross the road again.
Young snapping turtles can also be picked up by their shell. Keep in mind though that their heads canswing back up to three-quarters of the length of their body so onlypick them up from the rear end facing away from you. I prefer to graspthe 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 weightbeing on their plastron or belly. This way I can safely keep themimmobilized and they really cannot argue with me. Some people findcarrying a plastic tote in their cars proves helpful. That way they canscoop the turtle into it and if needed it can be an excellenttransport 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 withsensory neurons so they can actually feel you touching them!
Did you know turtles could freeze solid and live to talk about it? They havejust enough stored antifreeze to survive if caught off guard but onlyonce in their lifetime. Some will freeze as hatchlings while still inthe nest before they emerge and that is why sometimes you will seenewborns 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 throughtheir cloaca or posterior orifice.
Speaking of breathing did youknow that the lungs of a turtle are located directly underneath theshell? If their carapace has a crack and water should seep in there is a chance that they may drown. Therefore only house injured turtles ondamp towels never in water.
If you need more info Leora Berman runs a wonderful organization called The Turtle Guardians located besidethe 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 dobring it to our sanctuary. You would be surprised how resilient theseamazing reptiles can be.
Monika Melichar runs the WoodlandsWildlife Sanctuary in Minden Hills a volunteer-based charity thatrehabilitates and releases sick orphaned and injured wildlife back into the wild. To find out more about the sanctuary go to woodlandswildlifesanctuary.ca .