Snapping turtle nesting on the roadside

Our Ontario turtles are semi-aquatic; while they spend a lot of time in the water, they also travel on land a lot too.  They will be on the move any time from April to October, although the busiest time for them is May and June.  Both males and females travel, and both are equally vulnerable to road mortality (the OTCC consistently sees 50:50 males to females in all species except the map turtle).

Females travel the most in June, as this is their most important time for laying eggs.  They look for appropriate sites to lay their eggs, and often travel large distances to find them.  Each species has their own preference and preferred time for laying eggs.  Laying eggs involves the female digging a hole (very slowly, in true turtle style!) and depositing the eggs, and then covering them up. There is no parental care of the eggs beyond this, and the hatchlings are on their own to find their way to water. Unfortunately, they don’t always choose the best site…

Turtle eggs act as food for a great many wild species, and only a very small percent (less than 1%) ever make into the population.  In fact, it takes about 59 years for a snapping turtle to have a hope of replacing itself in the population, since they mature so late, and so few eggs survive!

While populations can sustain this loss of eggs and hatchlings when no other unnatural threats are placed on them, all of our Ontario species are now considered Species at Risk, due to the many human-related threats.  As a result, they need all the help they can get to attempt to offset this.  Many conservation initiatives are underway across the province, to help tip the balance back and allow populations to survive.

While protection of the adults is obviously the most important conservation initiative, additional programs also can help to augment populations.

Blanding’s turtle laying eggs

Nest Protection

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Nest protection programs are underway by biologists across the province, to increase the survival of the eggs, and hatchlings.  It is not legal to disturb or interfere with a natural nest in any way, without the appropriate permits through the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF).  However, the MNRF does allow nest protection on private property, carried out by the property owner.

If property owners decide to do this, it is very important that no harm is done in the process- eggs and hatchlings can be put under even more risk, with improper nest protection devices.

Since most of our Ontario species of turtles have  “temperature dependent sex determination” i.e. the temperature of incubation affects the sex of the turtles, it is very important that the temperature of the nest is not interfered with, by materials that shade the site.

OTCC sells these nest protectors, for pickup only. Call us at 705-745-7530 to place your order.

How to Make a Turtle Nest Protector:

You can make a nest protector using a wooden frame with narrow-gage mesh (also called hardware cloth or carpenter’s cloth), staked securely into the ground. Make sure there are escape routes cut out of the frame! Without these, the hatchlings have no means to escape after hatching, and can quickly die.

Materials
  • Untreated lumber, 8′ x 4″ x 2″
  • 3″ deck screws x 8
  • 1/2″ galvanized hardware cloth, 2′ x 2′ square
  • Staple gun with staples
  • 8-10″ steel edging spikes x 4
  • Washers (of a size appropriate for spikes) x 4
  • Stake flag (optional)
Assembly
  1. Cut wood into 2 x 24″ lengths and 2 x 21″ lengths
  2. Cut notches approximately 2″ wide and 1″ tall into each segment of wood
  3. Assemble wood into a two-foot square by placing the 21″ lengths between the 24″ lengths.
  4. Use deck screws to attach the pieces together.
  5. Attach the hardware cloth onto the square frame, either using staples or wood screws with washers
  6. Insert the spikes with washers into holes in the mesh near each corner of the frame
1. Cut four pieces of untreated wood to length.
2. Add 1″ x 2″ escape holes to each piece.
3-5. Assemble into a square and cover with wire mesh.
6. Add a spike with washer to each corner.

How to Install a Turtle Nest Protector

Whether you’ve purchased a nest protector or made your own, follow these instructions for installation.

* Only install on your own property, or with permission from the landowner

  1. When you see a nesting turtle, approach briefly to mark the location of the nest and then give her lots of space
  2. Return to the area only after the mother turtle has left
  3. Place the protector over the nest with the nest centered in the middle
  4. Insert the spikes with washers into the holes in the corners of the frame, ensuring the spikes won’t disturb the nest itself
  5. Drive the spikes into the ground
  6. Remove any vegetation so the exit holes are unobstructed
  7. Ensure the top of the nest protector is clear with full access to sun
  8. Optionally add a stake flag to make the protector more obvious during activities such as lawn maintenance
  9. Leave the nest protector in place until late October, and then remove prior to winter
  10. NEVER dig up or otherwise disturb the nest – it’s illegal and can seriously harm any eggs or hatchlings in the nest. Don’t be alarmed if you don’t see hatchlings emerge from the nest. Some turtle species over-winter in the nest and emerge the next spring.

Remember: Do NOT dig up the nest if you do not see signs of hatchlings emerging. Many clutches hatch and the hatchlings remain in the nest over the winter, and only emerge in the spring!