Today’s post comes from Olivia Pomajba, a summer student at Rondeau Provincial Park.
A baby turtle heading for the water reminds us of the dangerous journey we all face in life.
The world must seem incredibly vast to these centimeter-long hatchlings, and they face many challenges.
Turtles begin laying eggs in late May and early June, and often migrate to build their nest.
Silt and gravel on the sides of the road create excellent nesting conditions; It is easy to dig and offers full sun to keep the nest warm.
But the risk of road mortality increases as turtles cross roads to lay their eggs.
The return journey that the hatchlings make from the nest to the water is even more profound: they complete it alone.
After laying their eggs, the turtles do not tend to their nest or care for their young.
Snapping turtles nesting on a road in Rondeau Provincial Park
As a result, newborn turtles go through a period of extremely high mortality caused by predators and environmental stressors.
Within 24 hours of laying eggs, the clutch emits a strong odor and leaves the nest vulnerable to predators.
Raccoons are known for their taste for turtle eggs, but skunks and foxes are also known predators.
Surviving eggs usually hatch in mid-August, but this varies depending on weather conditions during the summer. For many turtle species, temperature determines the sex of the eggs.
Spiny softshell hatchling
Cooler temperatures result in male hatchlings, while a long, hot summer will result in more female turtles, which may help repopulate Ontario’s at-risk turtle species.
Ontario Parks Projects
Photo: Patrick Moldowan
Ontario parks host several important turtle research projects, such as observing Blandings and Wood turtle hatchlings using radio telemetry.
Nest covers in Ontario parks have also proven effective in protecting clutches from predators.
Researchers have been using artificial nesting mounds in Algonquin Provincial Park in an effort to reduce predation and hatchling mortality. They found that hatchling success was greater in artificial nests.
Presqu’ile Provincial Park has installed wildlife crossings in key crossing areas to reduce roadside turtle mortality. You can learn more about eco-passages in Ontario parks here.
And of course, park staff from all Ontario Parks departments watch for emerging chicks and help them navigate busy areas of the park.
Be a turtle hero!
Several of Ontario’s turtles are considered at risk. It is estimated that less than 2% of baby turtles survive to adulthood, so let’s help them!
Report your sightings
If you see a hatchling turtle in the wild, take a quick photo and report your sighting to Ontario Parks’ iNaturalist project. Sightings like these can really help park staff and researchers protect turtles more effectively.
Be careful not to disturb the turtle when taking the photo.
Keep an eye out for turtles along the way.
If you see a turtle on the road, you can help it cross.
When helping turtles cross the road, make sure it is safe to do so and lead the turtle in the direction it was heading. You should wash your hands afterwards, as turtles can carry salmonella.
Don’t feed the raccoons!
Raccoons are predators of turtle nests and baby turtles. When raccoons are fed by humans, their populations skyrocket. The more raccoons there are in Ontario parks, the more predators there will be for baby turtles.