Something spotted this way comes…   Leave a comment

Wild spotted turtles can experience and do things which captive turtles cannot. (Photo: C.Davy)

Spotted turtles, like the one in this photo, have very small home range sizes compared to most turtle species. This means they don’t travel very far during their lifetime. When large amounts of wetland are converted to urban or farmland which spotted turtles cannot cross easily, populations of spotted turtles can become isolated from one another. Because spotted turtles usually don’t travel long distances, the populations may not be able to reconnect again. Over time, these populations may become genetically different from one another, and develop their own “genetic signature”.

One of the big threats facing spotted turtles in Ontario is that people collect them to keep as pets. Check out the photo – they are definitely beautiful animals, so people find them very attractive. But many people don’t understand why it’s a really bad idea to take a wild turtle home with you. They don’t understand that it is illegal to take home a spotted turtle, or that an aquarium in your home – even a very nice one – can provide almost none of the things that a turtle is used to in the wild. And they don’t understand that once a turtle has been removed from the wild, it usually has to stay in captivity for the rest of its life – which might be much longer than the life of a human.

Sometimes turtles are confiscated from people who have collected them illegally. Some of these animals could be returned to the wild – but we often don’t know exactly where they came from. Turtles are familiar only with their own, specific home range. They may not be able to survive just anywhere – they may not be able to find enough food or a good place to hibernate if they are put into a new, unfamiliar area. If you release a turtle or another reptile into an area it doesn’t know, it is unlikely to survive. So illegally collected turtles can’t be released back to the wild unless we can identify the population they came from.

One of the projects I am working on is a study of the genetics of spotted turtles in Ontario. We are using samples from Ontario Spotted Turtles to identify the genetic signature of each population, and our hope is that we will one day be able to use these genetic signatures to figure out where illegally collected turtles came from. This way, some of those animals can be returned to the wild, and continue their lives as wild turtles!

– Christina Davy

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Posted August 8, 2011 by thinkingturtles in Uncategorized

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