Turtle Time

The Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority (GRCA) would like to remind the public that June is peak turtle nesting season. Please watch for turtles crossing roads, especially in the community of Bewdley. Over the years, concerns about annual losses of snapping turtles resulting from vehicular traffic have brought on the need to notify watershed residents of this issue. During nesting season, numerous female turtles leave marsh areas in Bewdley and cross the road looking for places to lay their eggs. Preferred nesting areas are gravel shoulders of the road and nearby driveways, as well as sandy soils in nearby yards.

Snapping turtles are designated as a “Special Concern” species by the Province through the Endangered Species Act, based largely on their sensitivity to increases in roads and traffic. It takes years for turtles to mature, and scientists are concerned that continuous removal of adult females from a population, often before they are able to lay their eggs, could result in rapid decline of the species. Snapping turtles play a valuable role as scavengers of dead and diseased fish, which is another concern, as this helps maintain a clean lake and stronger fish populations. At least two other turtle species at risk, the northern map turtle and the Blanding’s turtle, are known from the Rice Lake area. Snapping turtles, and the common painted turtle, can be found in wetlands and ponds throughout Northumberland County.

Turtle nesting season normally begins in late May and peaks in June. This is when they are most likely to be seen crossing roads. Hatchlings emerge in the late summer and head back to lakes and wetlands. When a turtle hatches they are only about the size of a toonie. They are highly vulnerable to predators, but are also so small that drivers are unlikely to see them. Numerous Ontario municipalities, including the Township of Hamilton, have erected turtle crossing signs in an effort to raise awareness about the issue and reduce the number of fatalities.

According to Ontario Nature, you can help by:

1. Being on the lookout for turtles while driving and learn how to identify turtles on the road. They often look like oil slicks or bumps. If you see a turtle on the road, slow down and give it a wide berth when passing. You can also turn on your hazard lights to alert other motorists of its presence.

2. If you see a turtle on the road, consider helping it. If it is safe to do so, help the turtle cross in the direction it is travelling by placing your hands on the underside and topside of its shell, behind the back legs (especially if it is a snapping turtle!). This will protect you from being bit, while also protecting the turtle. If the turtle is travelling (and the road is not busy), walk beside or behind it until it reaches the other side. Helping a turtle digging or nesting on the roadside could take a while. Pull your car over, turn your hazard lights on and wait. Do not try to move the turtle or scare it off. If you have a safety kit in your car, place a traffic cone or other marker near the turtle and come back for it later. Make sure to observe nesting turtles from a safe distance to avoid disturbing them.

3. Report turtles you see on the road. Use the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas app to report turtles, snakes, frogs and salamanders that you find on the road, alive or deceased. Data from the app is used by many provincial and municipal groups to inform the placement of eco-passages and signs to help animals safely cross roads. 4. Sign up to be a turtle taxi. The Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre in Peterborough has a network of volunteers called Turtle Taxis that help transport injured turtles to the Centre. These taxis also help release rehabilitated turtles and hatchlings retrieved from injured females. If you find an injured turtle, call the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre at 705.741.5000.