Archive for September 2011

First Patrol   Leave a comment

Snapping turtles feasting on a Carp carcass. (Photo: A. Leifso)

One of my most memorable days of turtling this summer was the first day we went out to patrol Spiny Softshell nesting site for nesting turtles. We had started walking at 11AM and although it was a beautiful day, we didn’t find any Softshells. The only thing to note was a handful of large dead fish that was being washed up on shore. On our last sweep of the beach, the two of us on patrol stopped suddenly at the same time because we saw the same dark spot up ahead by 150 meters. We started creeping up, voicing our thoughts out loud that this dark blob was way too big for a turtle. It neither turned out to be a Softshell or a single turtle. The dark moving blob was 8 Snapping Turtles feasting on the same large dead carp we had found earlier. Snapping turtles love to eat freshly dead things (carrion) for dinner but I had never until that moment seen such a large group of them feasting together.

Snapping Turtles wait to be measured before being released. (Photo: A. Leifso)

We quickly dropped everything we were carrying and ran up to them but as we approached we realized we did not have a plan! The snappers started to scatter so we caught the ones starting to swim into the deeper water. Turtles may be slow on land but they are super fast in the water and can quickly escape me (a mediocre swimmer at best). Carrying them to land, we used nearby thin logs as a makeshift playpen, although they probably thought it was more like a prison. Back and forth we ran, catching turtles by the carp and putting them in the pen, catching turtles escaping from the pen, and building ever more of our make-do holding pen.

Swallowtail Butterflies feasting on dead fish. (Photo: A. Leifso)

Our method of processing became refined. One of us was on lookout, catching any escapees and all the while being the note-taker. The other person measured and notched the turtles, which was quite difficult in the sand. We eventually mounded the sand into a pile to place the turtle on. We did this because on their backs, snapping turtles will roll right-side-up almost immediatly by using their long necks to reach down to push their heads against the ground and flip over. Setting them on a bit of a pedestal made it a little more difficult for them. All in all, it took 3 hours to process the 8 turtles and…

…days later, we found out snapping turtles aren’t the only creatures to feast together on dead fish!

– Ashley Leifso

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Posted September 23, 2011 by thinkingturtles in Uncategorized

Slowing down for the season…   Leave a comment

As the evenings get cooler and cooler, I find myself slowing down a little, getting into a more mellow groove and getting ready to pull out some big fuzzy sweaters and spend more time indoors to stay warm. Of course, our turtles are all getting ready for the cooler weather too! As the temperature drops, turtles across Ontario are moving towards their hibernation sites, spots which they know will be safe to use over the winter. What makes a perfect hibernation site for a turtle? Let’s just say it’s not what I’m looking for in the winter months! Turtles spend the whole winter under the water, often under ice. Because hibernating turtles don’t want to become scaly ice-cubes, they need to find sites which won’t freeze solidly to the bottom. They also need to get enough oxygen out of the chilly water to get them through the winter (since they won’t be able to come up to breath once the ice forms on top of their wetlands). Our turtles get through the winter by slowing down their metabolism (although they can still move if they need to) and exchanging oxygen across the lining of their cloaca – basically, they breath through their bums! In the case of Eastern Musk turtles (aka. Stinkpots), oxygen is also exchanged underwater across the surface of the tongue. However they get oxygen from the water, they need a site with water containing enough oxygen to get them through the long cold months ahead.

A Blandings Turtle basking on a grassy bank after emerging from a long, cold hibernation. (Photo: C. Davy)

Some turtles need more oxygen than others – recent studies show that Blandings turtles, for example, can tolerate winters in low-oxygen water which could not support some other species. But all overwintering animals need at least some oxygen to get them through. This is why changes in the water level of wetlands during the winter can be dangerous for overwintering wildlife. If a previously deep area (with lots of oxygen, and with lots of water under the ice) suddenly become shallow, for example, due to an ice jam or the bursting of a dam, turtles hibernating in that area may not have the temperatures or oxygen level they need to get through the winter. By the time things freeze over, it can be difficult for turtles to move to a different site. So the decisions they are making right now about where to spend the winter can literally be a matter of life and death!

– Christina Davy

Posted September 23, 2011 by thinkingturtles in Uncategorized