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Endangered Species: The Blanding's turtle

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By Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter
Wednesday, December 11, 2013, 2:52 PM

While not endangered, wildlife officials are keeping a close eye on the Blanding's turtle, which is classified as threatened by the Ontario government.

This species is best identified by a bright yellow throat and jaw that creates the appearance of a smile. It can also be spotted by its domed shell, which resembles a soldier's helmet.

This mid-sized turtle is seen in the Great Lakes basin and in isolated populations in the United States in Canada.

Like the spotted turtle -- another at-risk Ontario species -- Blanding's are happiest in shallow wetlands -- which is, unfortunately, a prime location for development. The bogs and marshes that these turtles call home is commonly drained to create roads, residential properties and farmland, resulting in fragmented populations.

This can have a devastating impact on the population as a whole.

Small, isolated populations tend to have less genetic diversity and lower reproductive success rates.

Courtesy: UFSWS/Flickr

Courtesy: UFSWS/Flickr

Blanding's turtles can live for a long time -- some studies suggest their lifespan can exceed 100 years -- but road mortality poses a major threat to all turtles.

Countless turtles are hit by cars each year trying to get to nesting sites, particularly during nesting season in the late spring and early summer.

Even if the turtles make it to the other side, their eggs are vulnerable to predators like foxes, raccoons and skunks.

During her lifetime, a female Blanding's turtle can lay hundreds of eggs but experts say only a small handful actually hatch.

Despite being protected under Ontario's Endangered Species Act, Blanding's turtles are often illegally collected and sold as pets.

While there are strict government sanctions in place, pet-trade poaching continues to be a growing concern with devastating ecological impacts.

Photo courtesy: John Crowley/Ontario Nature

Photo courtesy: John Crowley/Ontario Nature

"The illegal harvest of turtles from the wild is not a new phenomenon, but it has undergone significant growth recently due to the huge popularity in Canada and North America of keeping reptiles as pets," Mike Rutter, an intelligence investigative specialist with the Ministry of Natural Resources, told the Haliburton Echo in 2011.

"Due to the long life and slow reproduction of wild turtles, organized poachers can decimate a local population of turtles very quickly," he told the Echo. "In the case of any of Ontario's endangered turtles ...one poaching event has the potential to virtually eliminate an area's entire population."

What you can do to help

  • Help turtles cross the road. If you see a turtle on a busy roadway, move it to the other side, in the direction the turtle is headed, provided it is safe to do so.
  • If you spot turtles in their natural habitat, do not disturb them.
  • Preserve plant, insect, reptile and amphibian species by maintaining wetlands on your property.
  • When choosing a pet, refuse to buy endangered or threatened turtle species, or turtles that have been poached from the wild.

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