This World Turtle Day, take a moment to remember the midland painted turtle. The colourful reptile is a familiar sight along shorelines and in ponds throughout southern Ontario, but it is now in trouble.
In April 2018, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) designated the midland painted turtle as Special Concern. This means that all of Ontario’s eight turtle species are now at risk of disappearing from the province.
“The new COSEWIC designation is incredibly disheartening,” says Emma Horrigan, Ontario Nature’s Conservation Science Coordinator. “Painted turtles are a mainstay of many people’s outdoor summer experiences, and this widespread species is now declining.”
Because painted turtles are slow to mature and only lay a small clutch of eggs each year, the deaths of even a few adults can negatively impact population sizes. The biggest threats to the species’ survival are roads and habitat loss.
Reptiles, including painted turtles, account for a large portion of the animals killed on Ontario’s roadways each year. Nesting females are particularly vulnerable to road mortality because they lay their eggs in the soft roadside shoulders. Add to that the historical loss of more than 70 percent of southern Ontario’s wetlands and it is not hard to see why the midland painted turtle is now at risk.
But there is hope. Concerned nature lovers can help reduce turtle road mortality by driving with caution and watching for wildlife-crossing signs along roadways. They can also submit their turtle sightings to the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas. Scientists use data from the atlas to monitor turtle populations across the province and to develop conservation strategies for individual species.
So, celebrate World Turtle Day by driving carefully and helping biologists learn more about these quintessential summer creatures. It is the first step toward ensuring that all of Ontario’s turtles remain a part of the provincial landscape.
Ontario Nature protects wild species and wild spaces through conservation, education and public engagement. Ontario Nature is a charitable organization representing more than 30,000 members and supporters, and 150 member groups across Ontario. For more information, visit ontarionature.org.