Turtles at Point Pelee

Point Pelee National Park

Southwestern Ontario has the highest concentration and number of turtle species in Canada. Six of the eight turtle species native to Ontario can be found within Point Pelee National Park. Federally, all turtle species are designated as species at risk due to population declines as a result of road mortality, habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching, and nest predation.

Did you know?

Predation is a natural interaction, where the predator kills and eats their prey. For turtles at Point Pelee - nest predation, when turtle eggs are dug up and consumed, is also a natural process; however, with human induced changes in many landscapes, some natural predator numbers are much higher than they have been historically. This leads to increased nest predation by predators such as raccoons, moles, and crows/ravens which can reduce turtle populations over time.

Point Pelee Turtle Nest Protection

Turtle monitoring and nest protection has taken place in Point Pelee National Park for more than a decade. This work has helped to increase the number of turtle hatchlings entering into the overall population (a process known as juvenile recruitment) and decrease nest predation rates within the park. Staff from the park's Resource Conservation department, with the assistance of different program partners over the years, have protected approximately 835 turtle nests since the program began in 2001.
In June and July of 2020, Parks Canada staff conducted turtle surveys from sunrise to sunset to minimize any loss or harm due to the road reconstruction taking place. Over the course of nesting season, the turtle tracker team:

  • Documented 185 turtle observations – 135 of which were associated with the road (e.g., crossing the road, actively nesting, digging test pits),
  • Relocated 10 nests from the roadside to a more suitable area to avoid disturbance from construction activities, and
  • Documented 54 nest locations, 25 of which were protected over the course of the summer.

Overall, 754 turtle hatchlings emerged from nests in Point Pelee during the 2020 field season – 518 of which were from nests protected as part of the turtle monitoring program.

Did you know?

All plants, animals, and natural objects within Point Pelee National Park are protected through the Canada National Parks Act. Further legal protections are provided to species listed in the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and those listed as at risk by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

Turtles of Point Pelee 

Blanding's turtle

Blanding’s Turtle – Endangered

Blanding’s turtles are characterized by their highly domed shell (similar to an army helmet), and bright yellow chin and throat. Their carapace (upper shell) measures between 15–25 cm in length. 
Eastern Musk Turtle

Eastern Musk Turtle – Special Concern

Musk turtles are characterized by a narrow, domed shell, and two light stripes on the top of their head. This species is quite small, reaching a maximum carapace length of 13 cm. 

Midland Painted Turtle

Midland Painted Turtle – Special Concern

Midland painted turtles are one of the most common turtle species that visitors will observe at Point Pelee. They are characterized by having a broad, smooth and flat carapace with red markings along the marginal (edge) scutes, and red and yellow stripes on the head and neck. Their carapace measures between 12–14 cm in length.
Northern Map Turtle

Northern Map Turtle – Special Concern

The northern map turtle is named after the markings on their shell, which resembles a contour lines on a topographic map. Their carapace is coloured with these fine yellow lines, and has a distinct keel (ridge) along the spine, and serrations on the rear edge. This species displays sexual size dimorphism, meaning that the males and females are not the same size as mature adults. Males reach a maximum carapace length of 13 cm; whereas females are much larger and reach a maximum carapace length of 27 cm.
Snapping Turtle

Snapping Turtle – Special Concern

The snapping turtle is Canada’s largest freshwater turtle species by size and weight, reaching a carapace length of 25–35 cm; with a record of 49 cm. Their large, slightly domed shell which is commonly covered in algae has serrations along the rear edge. Their plastron (lower shell) is very small in comparison to other turtle species and resembles a “t” shape. As a result, on land, snapping turtles cannot hide in their shell to protect themselves from a perceived threat. Instead they will stand up tall on all four legs and “snap” in defense to scare the threat away. Their tail is also prehistoric looking with triangular dinosaur-like spikes.
Spiny Softshell Turtle

Spiny Softshell Turtle – Special Concern

The spiny softshell is the only species in Ontario with a flexible carapace. This species is characterized by a flat, round, leathery carapace, with two dark streaks on either side of their head and a long tubular snout. Females range in size from 18 – 43 cm; whereas males range in size from 12–24 cm.

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