Meet the Ontario Wood Turtle

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Wood turtles (Glyptemys insculpta) are Ontario’s most terrestrial turtle. At full size they are a little bit smaller than a football, with bright orange legs and a rugged, angled shell. These unique turtles are given the name “wood” for the rough, layered scutes that make up their carapace (upper shell). This layering of scutes is caused by the wood turtle’s poor ability to shed as it grows. Piled layers of unshed shell create growth rings on the turtle’s scutes similar to the growth rings of a tree. In fact, you can estimate a wood turtle’s age by counting the number of rings on one scute. The oldest wood turtle found in Ontario’s wilderness was a young 46, and in captivity they can live more than 60 years!

Wood turtles live in clean, clear rivers, streams and creeks but are most often found roaming near wet meadows, swamps and fields. Like most Ontario turtles, the wood turtle in an omnivore preferring a mixed diet of insects, fish, leafy plants, berries, and fungi. They are best known for their curious personality and clever hunting methods. Wood turtles hunt by stomping their feet on the ground to simulate rain; as worms crawl to the surface to escape the anticipated downfall the wood turtle stands by ready to grab a self delivered lunch. Yum! Wood turtles are also known to have excellent night vision, and can sometimes be found visiting strawberry fields after hours to feast on their favorite fruit.

Currently the wood turtle is listed as endangered under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act and is believed to be one of Ontario’s most periled reptiles. Threats affecting this loveable turtle include habitat loss and degradation; predation by raccoons, skunks, foxes and pets; illegal collection for the pet trade; and road mortality. Similar to all of Ontario’s turtles, wood turtle populations have a hard time recovering once population sizes have been significantly reduced. This is because turtles grow slowly, maturing late in life (some at over 15 years of age), and even once they do reproduce, very few of their young will survive to adulthood (approximately 1 out of every 100 hatchlings makes it to adulthood).

Adopt-A-Pond is working with Ministry of Natural Resources on projects to help keep wood turtle population numbers high! If you would like to help, report ANY SPECIES of turtle you see to Ontario Turtle Tally. Submissions to Turtle Tally become part of an important database that allows natural resource managers and conservation organizations to protect Ontario’s turtles. Your submissions help us map species locations and ranges, and identify unique turtle “hotspots” where conservation efforts are needed.

Wood turtles are especially rare in Ontario, and because of this, observation reports are highly sought after. If you see a wood turtle please report your sighting to trusted agencies such as the Ministry of Natural Resources’ Natural Heritage Information Center or Toronto Zoo’s Ontario Turtle Tally program.

For more information about wood turtles and their habitat check of the MNR’s Wood Turtle Fact Sheet