This is the second installment of our Turtle Nest Blog Series: Why the turtle crossed the road & other FAQ’s about turtle nests. Read the first installment of the series.
3. (Continued…) I have come across a female turtle nesting somewhere other than on a road. There are a large number of predators (i.e. foxes, racoons, wolves, crows) known to be near the nesting location. What should I do?
Before deciding to interfere with a nest, there are a few questions you should ask yourself first.
Is a cage necessary? Generally, experts would recommend you think carefully about whether or not a protective cage is necessary. The predation of turtle nests is a part of nature and provides a food source for many predators, and turtle populations are adapted to relatively high levels of nest predation. However, in many parts of Ontario, populations of nest predators are much higher than they would have been historically due to human activities (e.g. cities support unnaturally high racoon populations). In areas with large populations of “subsidized predators”, nest predation rates may by unsustainably high over the long term, and management actions, such as nest protection, may be warranted. Keeping this in mind, the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre (OTCC) or other turtle experts can help to determine if and when nest caging may be appropriate.
If the nest is in a natural area, do not cage the nest. Many parks manage their own turtle populations with practices determined through years of scientific study. Furthermore, an authorization from the park is often required to conduct monitoring, research or other conservation activities such as nest caging.
If you do decide to protect a turtle nest with a cage, we recommend the following guidelines:
Use a pre-existing nest cage design that has been approved and recommended by turtle experts, such as the design that is provided by the Toronto Zoo Adopt-a-Pond Program or the OTCC (Figure 4).
Never disturb the nest or the eggs; if you feel that the nest is in danger and needs to be moved, contact your local MNRF district office for advice.
Ensure that the cage provides openings that the hatchlings can exit through. If using a wood frame, cut small holes at the base of the cage. If using a mesh cage, ensure that the mesh is large enough for the hatchlings to exit, or cut larger holes that they will be able to escape through.
Ensure that the cage does not interfere with or alter the nest environment (e.g. changes to the amount of sunlight, reduced vegetation cover etc.).
Authorizations under the Ontario Endangered Species Act and Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act may be required if these guidelines are not adhered to (e.g. if the nest environment is altered in any way, or if the cage does not allow the hatchlings to leave on their own).
Setting up effective nest caging takes a lot of time and consideration, so please think carefully before taking on this responsibility.
4. I have found a turtle hatchling emerging from its nest in the fall or spring, or a tiny turtle on its way from the nest to the nearest water body or other habitat.
This is another scenario where you can sit back, and enjoy watching nature in front of you! Soon after emerging from their nest, hatchlings begin to move to the nearest waterbody or other appropriate habitat (Figure 5).
It may seem like hatchlings could be vulnerable to predators, and need your help. And while the first statement is true, it is important to remember that predation is a natural occurrence in nature. Not much is known yet about how turtles navigate the landscape and how or when turtles learn important cues, but many experts believe that the movement from nest to water is an important time in the life of a turtle.
That being said, if you find hatchlings emerging from a nest on the side of a busy road it is recommended that they be moved off the road in the direction they were headed. While it is not advisable to move hatchlings at all, in this scenario if they are not moved there will be few survivors due to the grave risk traffic poses.
5. I have found an injured turtle that has been hit on the road. How can I help it?
If you can, safely and gently remove the turtle from the road. Record your exact location, and place the turtle (and her intact eggs, if it is a gravid female) in a box or container. The container should be well ventilated with a secure lid, and if available, lined with a slightly damp towel.
Then, as soon as possible, contact the OTCC by phoning 705-741-5000. The OTCC will arrange pickup and delivery of the injured turtle to their rehabilitation centre. The OTCC has the largest rehabilitation centre for turtles in the province, and has an extensive volunteer network that works together to transport turtles to their facilities.
If a gravid female cannot be rehabilitated, her eggs may still be viable, and with careful incubation, hatchlings can be released at the site where the female was found. This action is so important for turtles – not only do you have the ability to save a mature, adult, female turtle but also her offspring.
Thanks for reading and your interest in helping turtles! You can be a turtle hero today by following these simple stewardship guidelines and actions.
Dr. Julia Riley is an ecologist and herpetologist currently based at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Before moving to Australia her research focussed on the biology, behaviour, and conservation of Ontario turtles, and she still continues work on this topic today. If you want to know more about her current research, check out her website at: www.rileybiology.com
Emma Horrigan is Ontario Nature’s conservation science coordinator.