As March begins the temperature has stayed right where it has been all winter – somewhere between “brrr” and “I can’t feel my face!” Today when I arrived at the KTTC my car’s display told me it was -20 outside. This frosty weather might be making me move a little slower, but it did get me wondering how turtles make it through the winter. When you think about these creatures, you picture them basking in the sun on a hot summer’s day, not burrowed under piles of snow.

This snow turtle was created by a family of our supporters!

So what exactly does a turtle do in the winter?

I remembered hearing that turtles burry themselves in the mud over the winter months, so I did some reading to find out if this was true. As it turns out, depending on the species, it is mostly true. In general, our Native turtles hunker down on the bottom of lakes, ponds and waterways. Some burrow in the mud, while others wedge themselves under rocks and logs. Some simple lay quietly on the bottom.

Now that I understood where these creatures hide out during our cold Canadian winters, I started thinking, “How do they breathe down there?” Turtles have lungs just us, so how do they survive for months under the water and ice? 

How do they breathe?

As the weather cools, turtles become less active. Their metabolic rate drops and their bodies begin to run slower. This dormant state allows turtles to survive on very low amounts of oxygen. In fact, they stop breathing through their lungs altogether, and instead absorb oxygen from the water. This is done through areas in their throat and just inside the tail opening.

Turtles will move on occasion, but for the most part they will stay in hibernation until the spring and emerge when the weather warms… Something I am sure I am not alone in wishing I could do!

Until next time,

Intern Laura