Many Ontario parks have their “signature” wildlife: charismatic, common animals that most park visitors hope to glimpse during their stay.
Woodland Caribou Provincial Park is named after the iconic Woodland Caribou. Murphys Point Provincial Park is one of the best places to glimpse the elusive gray rat snake. Rondeau Provincial Park is the ideal place to observe the rare prothonotary warbler.
But did you know that Grundy Lake Provincial Park is the ideal place to see the Blanding’s turtle?
Grundy is fortunate to host a healthy population of this species.
The “nest” generation
During the month of June, these striking turtles (noted by their bright yellow throats and high dome-shaped shells) can commonly be seen crossing park paths and wandering beaches in search of nesting sites.
A female Blanding’s turtle laying eggs in her freshly dug nest
When a female has found a suitable spot, she slowly begins to dig a vase-shaped hole in the ground, collecting the soil with her hind legs. Once it is deep enough, she lays her eggs, gently repositioning them with her feet as they fall into the nest.
Once all the eggs have been laid (between 3 and 19), cover them with soil. The entire process can take a few hours. Throughout the experience, the mother turtle never sees her eggs and will not be present when they finally hatch in late summer.
Nesting season is often our only chance to see Blanding’s turtles. They typically hide in the park’s many wetlands for the rest of the year. If you can brave the mosquitoes, Grundy Lake is the ideal place to see these amazing animals!
Surprisingly, these turtles don’t start laying eggs until they are around 20 years old, and will continue to lay eggs well into old age (the oldest Blanding’s turtle known to science is over 80 years old!).
Unfortunately for Blanding’s turtles (and all Ontario turtles), nesting often takes them to sandy road shoulders.
These warm, sunny locations have plenty of exposed sand and gravel to incubate eggs, but leave female turtles exposed to the dangers of traffic.
All Ontario turtles are considered an at-risk species, largely due to road mortality. Reptiles do not compensate for their losses by having more offspring, so when turtles die on the road year after year, their numbers begin to decrease drastically.
So what can a park do?
First, we needed to figure out how we can prevent turtles from being hit on our roads.
To do this, we needed to know when, where and how turtles use them. We began to pay more attention to the turtles we saw and noted the details:
- Where is this turtle going?
- Where he came from?
- what species is it?
- How old are you?
- Where will it lay its eggs?
The more information we gathered, the more we wanted. The more we were in the park, the more campers wanted to observe, participate, and ask questions.
It seems like everyone had a story and connection to the turtles. Once campers learned about the turtle monitoring program, they enthusiastically reported their sightings to park staff!
Edging shells to our visitors
We now have many records of Blanding’s turtles, Midland painted turtles, and snapping turtles.
One camper even reported an Eastern Musk Turtle, or “Stinkpot,” the first record in the park! This turtle got its name from the smell it emits when threatened. They spend most of their time in the water, so they are not seen often.
Eastern Musk Turtle
They are considered a species of “special concern” as changes to their habitat could have a negative impact on their population.
If it were not for park visitors, often our “eyes and ears” when it comes to wildlife monitoring projects in the park, we may not have found this special species.
Thanks to these records, we now know where and when turtles move (it turns out it’s different for males and females) and where they like to nest.
Signage shows Grundy Lake campers where to take special care of turtles along the way.
We make sure nests are registered and protected from damage in the camp and in areas with roads, and we can check for chicks in the fall and help them go on their way.
We use the data we have collected to make park management decisions. Since participating visitors will report their sightings immediately, we will continue to collect valuable information.
How I can help?
If you are interested in helping Ontario’s turtles, there are some simple things you can do:
- Drive within the speed limit and watch for animals crossing the roads.
- protect nests by leaving nest covers in place
- Do not feed egg predators such as raccoons and foxes. Subsidizing predators in this way leads to a larger population of predators, which leads to higher rates of predation on turtle nests.
- Do not pick up, pick up, or move a turtle unless it is in danger of being hit by a vehicle.
- Report your sightings to park staff – include a date, time and location to indicate the species of turtle and what it was doing.
If your sighting does not occur within a provincial park, you can report it using apps like iNaturalist and Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas. They’re free and allow you to connect, share and discover the incredible diversity in your area with just a few clicks.
Most importantly, keep learning and asking questions about how you can help your home or camping community help protect these incredible species that call Ontario home.
To help celebrate the 125th anniversary of Ontario Parks, parks across the province hosted stewardship programs to help protect biodiversity in provincial parks. The Blanding’s Turtle project at Grundy Lake Provincial Park is one of 13 Ontario Parks 125th anniversary management projects developed throughout 2018.