Friday, June 15, 2012

Ontario Turtle Tally

Snapping turtle on the road in Eastern Ontario
The Toronto Zoo has been running a project under their Adopt-A-Pond umbrella called the Ontario Turtle Tally since 2003. From their website: "The purpose [of the Turtle Tally] is to collect, record and store location and species information on Ontario turtles, including species at risk....The information that is collected in this database will be submitted to the Natural Heritage Information Centre and will be used to learn more about turtle distributions in Ontario." Sarah submitted two pictures and the corresponding info to the good people at the Turtle Tally, including this one taken from her mom's City Mouse/Country Mouse blog.

Female snapping turtles like to use the gravel shoulders of roads as nesting sites, so you may encounter them - especially in the early summer - wandering along the side of a road you are traveling on. Often, however, you will come upon them in the middle of the road (as you can see in the above picture) and the temptation to move them out of harm's way becomes very great indeed. There doesn't seem to any real consensus online about how to pick up a snapping turtle; however, there is 100% agreement on how not to do so: by the tail. This is very painful for the turtle and can damage its spine or, in the case of young males, even its reproductive system. The best method I have come across for picking up a snapping turtle is to get behind it, find the cavity in the shell where the back legs protrude and lift from there. It's certainly not foolproof - you could get kicked by the turtle and that tail can cause some damage if it strikes you - but if you like to live dangerously, then by all means give it a try. Other methods involve coaxing the turtle onto a blanket and dragging it to safety or trying to get it to latch onto a thick stick and leading it off the road, but then that would really depend on how quiet that road is. If the turtle is in no danger - on the shoulder and not on the road itself - the best thing to do is to leave it be and let it find its way to wherever it is going.

Now, all of that is based on past experience and research I did today for this blog post. If you have better or just different suggestions, please pass them along. At this time of year, a snapping turtle on the road is a pretty common sight in rural parts of Ontario and knowing what to do when you come upon one is good information to have.

Painted turtles sunning on a pipe
Sarah also sent the Tally people this picture that her friend took of four painted turtles sunning themselves on a pipe at the Pheasant Run Golf Club in Newmarket. This led to a really sweet e-mail exchange with the Assistant to the Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles at the Toronto Zoo, who seemed positively thrilled to receive the photo and the information. The Zoo person was almost gushing with information about how to tell the difference between a midland painted turtle and a western painted turtle ("The midland usually has a smooth, dark carapace, while the western has greenish brown shells that have faint lines running all over it"). From that description, can you tell which type of painted turtle is hanging out on that pipe at Pheasant Run?

Red ear slider turtle at the Butterfly Conservatory
The gracious folks at the Turtle Tally also sent us a package of info that arrived yesterday in the mail. It's a pretty cool collection of documents and posters loaded with information, including two different sets of "Turtle Identifier" photos (one laminated so you can bring it with you into the marshes), a sort of snapping turtle info sheet, a booklet from Environment Canada's Habitat Stewardship Program (I wonder how much longer that will be in existence under the neo-Cons in Ottawa), a pamphlet from Frogwatch Ontario and a few other goodies. I immediately went back to my picture of the turtle at the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory and used the "Turtle Identifier" photos to see if I could figure out what species it was. What I found out, though, was it was not an indigenous turtle - which I probably should have known, because none of the butterflies are from this part of the world, either. With a little digging I discovered it was a red ear slider turtle, found in the southern United States and among the most popular pet turtles, apparently.

So I learned a lot about turtles today. I think my next step is to submit something to the Zoo's Frogwatch Ontario project and see if I can get a similarly cool package about froggies.


No sooner had I posted this blog piece than I was steered to the website of a wonderful non-profit, charity hospital for turtles called the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre. Their website offered information and a video on how best to "help" an uninjured snapping turtle off the road. Please do check that site out; the video is really low-key and sweet.


  1. I've always had a soft spot for turtles, especially because we had some pet turtles when I was a kid. I particularly enjoy seeing them swim, since they don't really look like natural swimmers to me, with their tiny clawed feet!

    1. The kind of float, like miniature shelled manatees. I like them in the water, too. What kind of turtles did you have as pets, Sarah?

    2. I believe they were Midland Painted. Nice pets, but you have to constantly wash your hands after handling them, as they can transmit salmonella.

    3. Neato! And you'd now know that because of the Turtle Tally, right? ;)

  2. Attention all turtle lovers! Sign this urgent petition!


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