Sometimes getting a little helping hand is all you need when you’re falling behind a bit, like when a teacher gives you five more minutes to finish a test or your basketball coach offers extra tips to improve your jump shot. Blanding’s turtles also need a little extra TLC because of the greater risks they are facing, such as the roads cutting through their habitats and all the buildings and farms that make it harder for these cute little turtles to get around. To protect the Blanding’s turtle Earth Rangers has teamed up with the Toronto Zoo to give these reptiles a helping hand!
Finding the Egg Drop
The first way that Toronto Zoo scientists help the Blanding’s turtle is by taking eggs laid in unsafe spots and moving them to a better location. In early June, Toronto Zoo scientists head out at dusk and scan the landscape with binoculars for nesting female turtles. This job takes a lot of patience, because once a Blanding’s turtle chooses a site to nest, digging, egg laying and nest covering can take six hours!
Once the mom turtle has left, the scientists check to see if the nest is at risk or not. Nests located in a farmer’s field are at risk of being ploughed; nests close to a road are also in dangerous places because the eggs or hatching baby turtles are likely to be hurt by cars. If the eggs are in trouble the scientists carefully dig up the nest with a spoon and sterile gloves. Half of the eggs are relocated to a safer site by burying them in special nesting mounds built by Zoo staff. These mounds have a wooden frame and are covered in wire mesh to keep predators away.
The other half of the rescued eggs will become part of the Toronto Zoo head-starting program. These eggs are transported in insulated containers to keep them warm. Each egg is marked with a number so the egg stays in the same position; rotation could harm the growing baby turtle inside. The eggs are incubated for about 60 days until they hatch. Check out this turtle hatching video to see the great egg escape! Once hatched, the baby turtles are weighed and have their height and length tracked every month. This information helps the Toronto Zoo ensure that the baby turtles are healthy and growing big and strong for their big release day. Scientists have been measuring and taking care of our Bring Back the Wild turtles since they hatched last August.
These little turtles are being raised in a nursery tank with shallow water and a sunlamp, which gives them the warm light that all reptiles need. They eat a combination of small pieces of beef, smelt fish, live crickets and earthworms. They also get a hard calcium block to help them grow a strong shell and healthy bones. By raising some of the turtles at the Toronto Zoo and releasing them when they are a bit bigger they have a much better chance of survival. Once released, these Zoo-raised turtles are about two years old and more able to get away from predators like raccoons, skunks and foxes.
The Big Release
The 10 two-year-old turtles, which were collected in 2012, will be ready for release back into the wild this April! Isn’t that exciting?! The trip back to the wild will start by first moving the young turtles into protected outdoor pens, kind of like a turtle training camp. In these pens turtles will experience daily temperature changes and different water levels, they are also exposed to natural sunlight and learn to hunt for moving food. The turtles will be kept behind screens as they continue to grow outdoors so that they will learn to be on their own. Then, two months later, in May and June, we will return our two-year-old turtles to their natural wetland.
The Ontario Turtle Tally asks people to submit sightings of threatened or endangered turtle species spotted in Ontario, like Blanding’s turtles. In 2012 alone 5,612 turtles were reported through this program, 225 of which were Blanding’s.
This citizen science project allows people that aren’t scientists to make a big difference for animals; so keep your eye out for turtles and submit your sightings to the tally!