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Spring, a risky period for turtles

Turtles grow active and move about with the arrival of spring, when crossing roads and highways makes them vulnerable to collisions with vehicles.
Credit: Shutterstock Tom Worsley
Les tortues s'activent et se déplacent au printemps et la traversée de chemins et de routes les rendent vulnérables aux collisions avec des véhicules.
  • Les tortues s'activent et se déplacent au printemps et la traversée de chemins et de routes les rendent vulnérables aux collisions avec des véhicules.
  • Il est possible de voir à quelques endroits du Québec, des panneaux de signalisation avertissant les conducteurs qu’il est possible de voir des tortues  traverser la route.
  • Tortues des bois dans les laboratoires du Biodôme avant d’être relâchées en nature.
Spring, a risky period for turtles

With the return of nice weather, buds are opening and many animals are emerging from their winter rest or returning from their wintering areas. For a number of species, this period is accompanied by increased activity as they look for food, a sexual partner or simply a change of habitat. Unfortunately, these movements, essential for survival and reproduction, may prove to be dangerous.

The dangers of the road

Turtles grow active and move about with the arrival of spring. This involves among other things crossing terrestrial environments, roads and highways, which makes them particularly vulnerable to collisions with vehicles. Road mortality threatens in a significant way the populations of all seven species of native freshwaters turtles in Québec. In any one population, all age groups will suffer. However, it’s the females, heading to or leaving nesting sites, as well as the hatchlings leaving the nest, that are most affected.

Mortality in adult turtles, a very bad omen

With most turtle species, the mortality rate is very high among the youngest, but once adult age is reached, the remaining individuals live for quite a long time. This greater life expectancy for adults allows populations to remain stable. Meaning, increased mortality among adults, however slight it may be, may entail a rapid decline in populations, possibly going as far as the extinction of the population. Such a situation, moreover, has already been documented in the United States (Garber et al. 1995). Indeed, the opening of a wildlife reserve to recreational activities brought about a reduction in the number of female adults and led to the disappearance of two wood turtle populations in ten or so years.

Advice for helping turtles

  • In the spring, when you travel on roads in an unmodified environment (big green spaces like forests and wetlands, as well as parks, urban woodlands and farmland), drive more slowly and be alert. Should you happen to observe a turtle, take a photo, make a note of your location and share your observation on Carapace.ca. The observations collected make it possible for us to know more about our shelled friends, so that we can better protect them.
  • If you find an injured turtle, you can get in touch with the Éco-Nature rehabilitation center.
  • In Québec, all species of native turtles are protected by the Act respecting the conservation and development of wildlife. It is therefore forbidden to hunt, capture, sell or keep in captivity native turtles. If you witness one of those situations, you can contact S.O.S. Braconnage.
  • Finally, exotic species kept in captivity must not be released into the wild.

And the turtles at the Biodôme?

Since 2014, the Biodôme and the Québec Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP) have been collaborating on a wood turtle conservation program. That species, despite having a lifestyle closely linked to bodies of water, uses the terrestrial environment quite a lot during its active period and is therefore especially at risk of collisions. To help them get through the early years of their lives, during which the survival rate is quite low, the MFFP collects laid eggs and places them in incubators. Once the eggs hatch, the young turtles are transferred to the Biodôme and entrusted to the good hands of our animal care technicians. After a year or two, the young generally reach a big enough size to be released into the wild. At that time they’re equipped with a microchip that makes it possible to identify them or with a radio transmitter that helps locate them, and thus evaluate the success of this helping hand.

For more information on the subject:

  • Congdon, Justin D., Arthur E. Dunham, and R. C. van Loben Sels. “Delayed sexual maturity and demographics of Blanding’s turtles (Emydoidea blandingii): implications for conservation and management of long-lived organisms.” Conservation Biology 7.4 (1993): 826-833.
  • Iverson, John B. “Patterns of survivorship in turtles (order Testudines).” Canadian Journal of Zoology 69.2 (1991): 385-391.
  • Galois, P. and J. Bonin. 1999. Rapport sur la situation de la turtle des bois (Clemmys insculpta) au Québec. Faune et Parcs, Direction de la faune et des habitats. 45 pp.
  • Garber, Steven D., and Joanna Burger. “A 20-yr study documenting the relationship between turtle decline and human recreation.” Ecological Applications 5.4 (1995): 1151-1162.
  • Steen, David A., et al. “Relative vulnerability of female turtles to road mortality.” Animal Conservation 9.3 (2006): 269-273.

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