Another species at risk and whose main threat is humans is the turtle. Turtles have been around for over 200 million years. The snapping turtle has been around for about 40 million years, so it was walking with dinosaurs. I love the way they almost look like a dinosaur themselves with their prehistoric looking tails with triangular crests along their length. Their tails can sometimes be longer than their body!
We found this Snapping Turtle on the lane way, heading home from the cottage. It was right in the middle of the road, but thankfully we spotted it. Like the snakes, we really need to pay attention for the “turtle crossing” signs and try to protect these animals from being hit by cars on the roads. The females will often cross roads when looking for a nesting site and because it takes so long for the females to mature and so few eggs hatch, the loss of adult females has put these animals at risk with their population declining. If you see a turtle trying to cross a road you need to help it so that the next car doesn’t miss seeing it and hits it. Don’t try and change a turtle’s direction because it will just turn around and try again.
We didn’t try and move this turtle because it was so large and snapping turtles are aggressive on land. Snapping turtles can’t hide in their shells when disturbed, like other turtles do, which is why it uses its powerful jaw to defend itself. Whilst they can’t pull their head into their shell, they have a long neck that is stored in its shell when not in use and it is very agile, so it can reach further than sometimes expected. It can easily break a large stick with its jaw, so you really need to clear of these animals! They are actually only aggressive on land and quite shy in the water, preferring to quickly swim away when approached.
These are huge animals and weigh an average of 22lbs, but some have exceeded 70lbs! They live for 40-50 years, but some have been known to live over 100 years of age. They eat aquatic plants and animals, including fish, frogs, birds, snakes and even other turtles. Like snakes, it plays an important role as a scavenger, eating dead fish and animals. They are so good at locating decaying matter that they are sometimes used to find dead bodies in lakes. They swallow small prey whole or use their beak, with their strong jaws and claws to tear larger prey into pieces. It can go for weeks without food, but will eat all it can when it does find food.
Snapping turtles are nocturnal and we saw this one late in the day. They like to spend most of their time in shallow water, buried in mud and waiting for prey. They don’t spend much time basking like other turtles do, which is why we don’t get to see them as often as other turtles.
Females don’t mature until they are 15-20 years old and will travel a long way on land to find just the right spot to lay her eggs. They lay between 25-80 eggs each year, but only 1 in 100 eggs will hatch because racoons, foxes, skunks and large birds love to hunt for these protein rich eggs. They are about the size of ping-pong balls.
We found a little baby snapping turtle at the end of last year. I am not sure how old this one was. I read that they grow quite fast and become quite large in just one year, so I am assuming this was under a year old.
We also found a turtle nest on our property, but I don’t think this was a snapping turtle nest because the egg shells look too small.
We often see turtles sunning themselves on a log in the lake. These are mostly Painted Turtles, which is the most widespread native turtle of North America. These have been around for 15 million years and have lost that prehistoric look that the snapping turtles have. Even though these are only 4-10 inches long and much smaller than the snapping turtles they can live for 30-40 years.
There are two types of painted turtles in this area, the Western and the Midland. The Western has a red pattern on the bottom shell, but I couldn’t see enough to tell which this one is.
Northern Map turtles have stripes similar to the Midland Painted Turtle, but don’t have the red or orange markings on the shell and the lines on the shell look rather like contour lines on a map.
These are only three of the eight species of turtles in Ontario, so I still need to look out for Blanding’s Turtle (they have mottled yellow spots), Eastern Musk Turtle (they have a brown shell and a yellowish lower shell and are quite small), Spiny Softshell (has a soft shell and a pointed nose), Spotted Turtle (they have bright yellow spots) and Wood Turtles (they have a highly sculptured upper shell and live in the woodlands). I might not find some of these in our area because they have declined in numbers and are endangered. It is estimated that there are only 2000 Spotted turtles throughout the whole of Ontario and only 50 reproductive individuals. They are tiny too, with a maximum length of 12 cm, so I need to keep my eyes open down at the marsh at the end of the bay. Hopefully one day I will be able to post a picture of one and celebrate that our little bit of wilderness has provided an undisturbed home for one!