It is an amazing time to be a Blanding’s Turtle at the Toronto Zoo!

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Our headstart Blanding’s turtle project is doing swimmingly! 2014 was a great success, with 41 successfully hatched Blanding’s turtles that are scheduled for release in the summer of 2016.  To date we have 41 new hatchlings, 21 one year olds, and 8 released Blanding’s living happy.

When our little guys hatched in August their average size was about as round as a toonie with an average weight around 9g. That is as about as heavy as two cubes of sugar! How cute! Currently these little guys are all enjoying a tepid nursery tub full of leafy vegetation to hide under and a nice warm basking site nearby. Adopt-A-Pond staff is keeping a close eye on them to ensure these turtles grow at a healthy rate. Turtles generally don’t eat right after they hatch because they are still utilizing nutrients absorbed from their yoke sack, so it can take some time to get them feeding. We are happy to report that almost all hatchlings have started to eat solid food! Their first enthusiastic mouthful was a delicious meal of earthworms, specially cut up to fit into their tiny mouths. A few hatchlings are even starting to develop their own unique personalities. Many love to sleep under drift wood near the basking light. While others are always found floating tucked between the layers of tasty kale leaves they are offered.

The one year old headstarts are doing equally well. Their average weight is a healthy 45g with some pushing close to 60g or about the weight of an apple. Some of the larger turtles are showing more dominant behaviour, which may help with their survival in the wild when competing with food and basking spots. To help the less dominant turtles cope we separate the turtles into groups based on their size. This ensures everyone has an equal chance to find food and a nice basking spot to sleep in.

Our released turtles are on the move in Rouge National Urban Park, with some traveling up to 280m in one day! On a sadder note two of our released Blanding’s turtles succumbed to predation by some of the Park’s ever present local predators. Even with this natural setback the Adopt-A-Pond staff members are not discouraged in our work. We radio track the remaining eight turtles three times a week and are noticing their increased ability to hide in the aquatic vegetation when we try to sneak up on them!

The headstart program will be used to help the Blanding’s turtle populations in Rouge Park, whom without our help would likely be extirpated by 2100. Planning for Blanding’s turtle recovery and management will ensure that this species continues to persist locally and can reach numbers that will sustain populations for years to come. This project includes hatching the eggs and rearing the young at the Toronto Zoo for 2 years before release. On-going research is being used to improve optimal care protocols and ensure an increase in survivorship and fitness of the turtles once released into Rouge Park.