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Wildlife Wednesday: Snapping Turtle

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Wildlife Wednesday: Snapping Turtle

This Wildlife Wednesday, learn about the snapping turtle, a species of special concern in Ontario.

Why did the snapping turtle cross the road? To find a nesting site, of course! But unfortunately, Canada’s snapping turtles are facing a wide variety of threats and need your help.

Habitat: Typically, the snapping turtle’s range reaches from Ecuador to Canada. In Canada they’re most common in Ontario.

Snapping turtle trivia

  • The snapping turtle is Canada’s largest freshwater reptile, weighing up to a whopping 16 kg.
  • Unlike other types of turtles, snapping turtles can’t pull their heads back into their shells to hide if a predator is around, which may explain why it defends itself by “snapping.” Even still, there’s no need to be afraid of them—they rarely snap unless provoked, and won’t snap when they’re safe and happy in the water.
  • They spend so much time in the water that they grow algae on their shells.
  • Turtles can live to a ripe old age, and snapping turtles are no exception—it takes them a full 15 to 20 years before they can be considered an adult.

Why we need them
Snapping turtles play an important role in the Canadian ecosystem. Their eggs provide nutritious food to birds and other mammals, they clean up the environment by eating dead and decaying food, and they’re also quite effective as construction workers, clearing paths and channels in waterways that other creatures use.

Why they’re threatened
The snapping turtle is threatened in Canada, and is classified as a special concern species under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act.

  • Regardless of its classification as a species of special concern, many people legally hunt snapping turtles.
  • Habitat loss is also a major threat to snapping turtles; according to the David Suzuki Foundation more than 70 percent of southern Ontario’s wetlands no longer exist.
  • As a top predator in its food chain, snapping turtles absorb environmental toxins, which can be harmful to their health. PCBs and mercury are the most common.
  • Snapping turtles have a habit of crossing roads to look for nesting sites, but because they’re quite slow moving, they often don’t get out of the way in time.

What you can do to help

  • If you’re driving in the summer in snapping turtle habitat (especially in Southern Ontario, between May and October) be on the lookout for snapping turtles crossing the road. Be aware that they move slowly and can’t get out of the way quickly. If possible, you may carefully move the turtle to the side of the road it is walking toward.
  • Check out the David Suzuki Foundation, which is campaigning to protect snapping turtles in Ontario and make hunting them illegal.
  • If you’re lucky enough to spot a snapping turtle, be careful not to disrupt it. However, you can take photographs and report your sighting and location to the Natural Heritage Information Centre.
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