There are 8 species of turtles in Ontario. In the Land Between bioregion across central Ontario, we have 7 of the 8 species...and 6 of these 7 species are species at risk.
The Land Between bioregion is home to more than 1/3 of Ontario's entire turtle population. See our turtle country page for maps
Biology, Threats & Behaviour
Turtles are reptiles and exothermic so their body temperature is the same as the environment that they are in.
Turtles are remarkable as the only creature with an exterior shell that is bone and part of their spine.
Turtles, like other reptiles can be found basking on roads and rocks and logs when the temperature reaches approx. 21 degrees C in the morning.
Turtles live a long time and have been estimated to live for over 100 years at least.
Turtles also take a long time to mature until they can reproduce- up to 15 years.
They need to live a long time because they have very low recruitment rates (few surviving offspring); in fact only 1% of turtle eggs will make it to adulthood on average.
This is because eggs and hatchlings face many threats;
- many mammals love to eat turtle eggs and dig up nests;
- if temperatures are too cold, the eggs won't hatch and
- if just slightly cool, for most species, the hatchlings will be males (no breeding females);
- if nests hatch, the young need to find water and while searching around are a eaten by birds,
- if they find water they are then predated by fish
Turtles on average only lay 10 eggs each year. Altogether, this means that it can take up to 25 years or more for a turtle to replace itself in the population.
Turtle nesting chart- average numbers
Upload: Nesting chart
Adult turtles face fewer natural threats and are the most important age class because they keep populations stable: Adults can have many more successful offspring and therefore are essential to keep turtle populations from declining.
The largest threats to adult turtles, are first and foremost road mortality. Secondarily pet trades and poaching affect turtles.
Most of the turtles on the road after the June full moon are females (roughly 60%). The females are heading to their annual nesting sites and they will follow the same routes year after year hardly veering off course.
When a turtle is hit and killed on the road, we lose the breeders and many future generations of turtles.
Turtles love to eat dead and decaying things that are found at the bottom of ponds, lakes and wetlands- they help keep the water clean.
Snapping turtles are the best scavengers, are fast swimmers, and are surprisingly gentle and curious when in the water.
First Nations call the earth "Turtle Island". This is because turtles are as old as dinosaurs and are said to have witnessed Creation...and the Creation story of the Mitche Saage First Nations of Ontario says that the world was created on the turtle's back.
Turtles have a relationship with the moon too: Every turtle in the world has 28 ridges around its carapace (top-shell) and there are 28 days between each full moon; and because every turtle has 13 scutes (ridges) on their carapace, and there are 13 full moons every year. Turtles main nesting season is around the first full moon in June; the Strawberry moon.
Finally the turtle is a symbol of Truth, and their 7 parts (legs, arms, tail, head, and shell) correspond to the 7 Grandfather Teachings for living a good life.
Turtle Habitats/Wetland Facts
Wetlands are nature's kidneys- they are vital in regulating water levels and cleaning water. Wetlands are habitats where water stands for more than 45 days of the year and therefore the dead leaves and debris turn into organic soils and plants that grow in wetlands are water-loving unique plants. Organic soils in wetlands act like sponges to hold on to water during floods and to release water during dry-times. Wetland plants and soils together filter water and take up pollutants and excess nutrients out of water, keeping water clean. Wetlands are essential habitats for over 70% of Ontario's species. Large mammals, frogs, birds, fish, and insects all use wetlands at some critical stage in their life- and wetlands are some of the most diverse and important habitats in the world. There are 4 main wetland types in Ontario: bogs, fens, swamps, and marshes. Wetlands are found at the mouth of rives, along rivers, shores of lakes, in isolated pockets surrounded by upland habitats, or in a string of connected habitats.
Turtles need to bask and therefore keeping or placing natural and simple features in the water such as dead timber or logs, will support turtles and also provide habitat for fishes.