When is a turtle like an umbrella?

June 20th, 2014 by Ontario Parks Leave a reply »

The next time you visit your favourite Ontario provincial park, be on the lookout for one of our most threatened “umbrella” species, the iconic Blanding’s turtle.

This hard-working, helmet-shaped, eco-soldier does more than walk through wetlands searching for food. Its very existence, ergo conservation, helps a variety of other species and ecosystems survive and thrive. This “pay-it-forward” sort of interdependence is what makes the Blanding’s turtle so important in Ontario.

Blanding's Turlte

“By protecting the habitat of a Blanding’s turtle, we are also protecting many other species at risk, duck and heron nesting sites, fish spawning sites, moose aquatic feeding areas, and beaver habitat, not to mention protecting water quality, buffering against flooding and maintaining recreational opportunities like fishing and canoeing,” says Brad Steinberg, biologist and Blanding’s turtle expert with Ontario Parks.  “They are the perfect ‘umbrella’ species for wetland conservation.”

Did you know?

  • Blanding’s turtles tend to hang out in southern, central and eastern Ontario so any of our parks in those regions might lead to a rare sighting
  • These turtles have a dome-shaped shell, a bright yellow chin, a devilish grin and can measure up to 10 inches
  • Unlike other Ontario turtles, their bottom shell is hinged so that some Blanding’s turtles can completely close their shell after pulling in their head and feet
  • They spend most of their time in wetlands, but make frequent over-land journeys to jump from one wetland to another
  • They can live up to 100 years and may be 50 before successfully reproducing. “They compensate for this low reproductive success by living a really long time,” says Steinberg
  • The most significant threats to the Blanding’s turtle are motor vehicles on roads, drained wetlands, diminishing habitats, and raccoons and foxes that prey on their eggs
  • Blanding’s turtles are also under serious threat from collection for food and for the pet trade

 

“Their populations just don’t have the capacity to bounce back,” says Steinberg. “It might take centuries for populations to recover from road kill or from someone collecting turtles – in fact they might never recover on their own. That’s one of the reasons why they’re considered threatened – because they’re just not easily replaceable.”

Blanding's turtle crossing road

The good news

Blanding’s turtles are on the species-at-risk list in Ontario and are protected, and Ontario Parks is on the case.  By partnering with researchers at universities such as Laurentian University, park staff are studying Blanding’s turtles in order to better protect their habitat and populations across Ontario.

Stay tuned for an upcoming OP blog about a Blanding’s turtle research project that involves crime scene investigation techniques!

Citizen science to the rescue!

You can help turtles by letting researchers know where you see them using the Ontario Nature reptile and amphibian atlas app – it is easy to use and can be found at www.ontarionature.org/protect/species/app.php.

The app identifies Ontario’s reptiles and amphibians, lets you submit sightings and stores a record of your submissions.

For more fun ways you and your family can help, open this link.

Photo caption1: Research on Blanding’s turtles in Ontario Parks has shown these species at risk use many different wetlands and will often travel over a kilometre to get from one wetland to another!

Photo caption2: You can help Ontario researchers study turtles by reporting where and when you see them using the Ontario nature reptile and amphibian app www.ontarionature.org/protect/species/app.php.

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