When it comes to headstarting turtles, there are a great many knowledge gaps; for example: how do we best prepare them for maximum chance of survival? Where is the best place to release them? What size and age is the best time to release them? Is headstarting indeed a viable conservation strategy for freshwater turtles in Ontario? We are adding to the collective understanding of best practices in all these areas, and have already learned a great deal in the time we have been conducting this study. We have learned that it is likely very critical where you release turtle hatchlings, and this information can only be obtained by studying the field site itself. We started by following a group of wild Blanding’s turtle adults in this region, in an effort to locate wild juveniles to track. We discovered that the wild adults actually don’t seem to frequent the same places as the juveniles, and tend to travel throughout a much broader area. The juveniles weighing 100 g only travel a very short distance over the course of an entire season, so if they are released in an area that happens to have a predator nearby, they can fall victim to this very easily. The juveniles released at 300 g traveled much farther, and therefore should have a greater ability to avoid predation. We have found that the headstarted Blanding’s turtles of both sizes can hibernate fine, and we have some that have now hibernated 5 consecutive winters! We have also found that it can be very hard work to follow these larger juveniles, as they like to travel to some very inaccessible places!
Our goal for this study is to follow these turtles through until they are sexually mature, and to determine if they are able to add to the adult population – with a species so slow to mature, this will take a few more years!
While we are out in this field site, we also conduct population surveys on all turtle species present in this area. We do this opportunistically, as what we really are looking for are wild Blanding’s juveniles. We have found a previously unknown population of the endangered spotted turtle here as well as many painted turtles, snapping turtles, and musk turtles. We collect information on these species too and can monitor sex ratios, numbers, general condition and location.