Turtles

Only two of Ontario’s eight native turtle species are likely to be found here: midland painted turtles and common snapping turtles.

October 12, 2021 | | Notes from the Wild

Headwaters wetlands are rich repositories of life but they don’t support very many turtle species. Only two of Ontario’s eight native turtle species are likely to be found here: midland painted turtles and common snapping turtles.

Blanding’s turtles and spotted turtles have been recorded in the past from Luther Marsh but, if they’re still there, their numbers are almost certainly very low.

No doubt the situation differed historically. Blanding’s turtles were undoubtedly more widespread in our hills. These lovely turtles, with high-domed shells and canary yellow throats, can live in all manner of wetlands. But they have an itinerant lifestyle that exposes them to the preeminent turtle “predator” of today – automobiles.

Wood turtle. Photo by Don Scallen.

Wood turtle. Photo by Don Scallen.

Spotted turtle. Photo by Don Scallen.

Spotted turtle. Photo by Don Scallen.

Spiny softshell. Photo by Don Scallen.

Spiny softshell. Photo by Don Scallen.

Northern map turtle. Photo by Don Scallen.

Northern map turtle. Photo by Don Scallen.

Spotted turtles may have been present in our hills beyond Luther Marsh too, but this species also dies on roads and is coveted by poachers. And since the cuteness factor of spotted turtles is off the charts, incidental collection by otherwise well-meaning people is also a threat.

Another species we’ve likely lost is the wonderful wood turtle, a creature with a shell that appears sculpted from fine oak. Noted for their intelligence, wood turtles in Algonquin Park have been observed summoning earthworms to the surface by tapping their forelegs on the ground.

Wood turtles live in and near streams – even small streams, and we have plenty of those in the Headwaters. But they also wander widely, bringing them into contact with cars, tractors, and ATVs. And like spotted turtles, they are highly prized by poachers.

Midland painted turtle. Photo by Don Scallen.

Midland painted turtle. Photo by Don Scallen.

Eastern musk turtle. Photo by Don Scallen.

Eastern musk turtle. Photo by Don Scallen.

Common snapping turtle. Photo by Don Scallen.

Common snapping turtle. Photo by Don Scallen.

Blanding's turtle. Photo by Don Scallen.

Blanding’s turtle. Photo by Don Scallen.

Three species of Ontario turtles that likely never inhabited our hills include northern map, eastern musk and spiny softshell turtles. All need the well oxygenated water of large lakes and rivers to survive, habitat in short supply here.

Should you find any species other than painted and snapping turtles in the Headwaters, consider yourself very lucky. And please share your discovery with the appropriate conservation authority.

About the Author More by Don Scallen

Don Scallen enjoys sharing his love of nature through his writing and presentations. Check out his blog "Notes from the Wild".

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