Our 8 Native Species Need Our Help!
Southern Ontario is THE place for turtles in Canada, with the greatest diversity of Canadian turtles living here. They can be found in a variety of habitats such as lakes, ponds, rivers, marshes, and bogs. Some species are very particular about where they live. Map turtles, for example, prefer larger rivers or lakes and may be spotted along the Trent-Severn Waterway. Other species, such as Painted turtles, can be found in a wider variety of habitats.
Wildlife in Canada is designated as Endangered, Threatened, Species of Special Concern, or Not at Risk. This designation is decided upon by a committee acting on behalf of the province (Committee on Status of Species at Risk in Ontario, or ‘’COSSARO’) and also a separate committee acting on behalf of the whole country (Committee on Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada or ‘COSEWIC’). Since a species can have a population that is healthy in one province but not another, the status can be different provincially vs federally.
The designations are defined as:
Endangered – species that face imminent extirpation or extinction (extirpation means that the species no longer exists in Canada but does exist elsewhere).
Threatened– species likely to become endangered if nothing is done to reverse the factors leading to extirpation or extinction.
Species of Special Concern-species that may become threatened or endangered because of a combination of biological characteristics or identifiable threats.
Learn more about the 8 species of turtle that live in Ontario by exploring the species linked below – designations shown are federal listings for each species.
Designation of Turtle Species Provincially and Federally
Note: the Eastern Box Turtle is considered extirpated in Canada. It apparently existed here until the 1500s but it is thought that sightings in the 20th century likely come from released pets.
Turtles are ectothermic – or ‘cold-blooded’, which means that they cannot generate their own body heat, and rely on the environmental temperature for this; they warm themselves by basking in the sun. All ectotherms have a unique “preferred optimal temperature zone” that is essential for all their physiological mechanisms (moving, eating, mating- even their immune system depends on this temperature range!). Ectotherms cannot survive in very cold climates, and so are not found in the far north, and must hibernate in the winter in the south.
Turtles are most frequently observed in June, during the height of their nesting season. Females are often found crossing roads to reach traditional nesting sites or laying eggs in the gravel along roads. Turtle nests are laid in soil that is easy to dig and provides the correct amount of moisture so the eggs do not get too dry or too moist during incubation. Since the eggs are incubated by the sun’s warmth, nests are usually laid in a spot where there is not much vegetation to shade the ground.
Incubation times vary depending on the weather conditions over the summer, but the eggs generally hatch in late summer or early fall. The gender of many turtles, including all of the species found in the Kawarthas, is determined by incubation temperatures. A long hot summer means that more of the young turtles will develop as females.
Less than 1 in a hundred turtle eggs laid will hatch and grow into an adult turtle. Unlike birds, turtles do not tend their nests once laid, nor care for their young once they hatch. Once the female has finished laying her eggs she never sees them again. Nests are easily found and destroyed by predators such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes looking for an early summer meal. The babies that do hatch are vulnerable to predators on land and in the water and few ever reach maturity (8-25 years of age depending on the species).
However, adult turtles have few natural predators and enjoy a high survival rate. Most species live at least 30-40 years and some species can live to over 100 years! But it can take decades of nesting for just one egg to survive to replace the turtle that laid it.
Seven of the eight species of turtle in Ontario have been designated as “species at risk”. As is the case for many species at risk, habitat destruction has played a major role in the decline of turtles. Many of the marshes, swamps, bogs, and fens that turtles once called home have been drained, filled, or otherwise altered.
Roads have been built through several of the remaining wetlands, and as a result road mortality is now a major threat to turtles. The majority of the turtles killed by cars are adult females on their way to or from nesting sites, which means that fewer eggs are laid every year and there is an even smaller chance that those killed by cars will be replaced in the future.
Other threats include collection for food or the pet trade.