Tis the Season to Fall in love With Our Blanding’s Headstarts

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Turtle season is coming to an end, but it still looks like a few of our young headstart Blanding’s Turtles are enjoying the last warm weather of fall before finding a safe place to sleep away the winter.

The Toronto Zoo’s Adopt-A-Pond Wetland Conservation Programme released its first cohort of Blanding’s headstarts into Rouge National Urban Park in June of this year, with the help of Parks Canada, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) and Earth Rangers.

Blanding’s are a long-lived species, with a lifespan of up to 80 years. They have inhabited the Rouge Valley since time immemorial, though their future remains uncertain with approximately six remaining Rouge Park Blanding’s turtles still living in the park’s wetlands.

“This is the first reintroduction of its kind in the Greater Toronto Area and marks a significant step in 15 years of turtle monitoring and research in the Rouge Valley,” said Bob Johnson, Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles at the Toronto Zoo. “Blanding’s turtles are amazing creatures and in some ways are a poster child for endangered species – by helping them, we also help countless other wetland animals and plants, so this is a good news story. The Toronto Zoo is proud to be part of this important partnership to save and protect Blanding’s turtles.”

Paul Yannuzzi, our Adopt-A-Pond Field Biologist, has been monitoring a Blanding’s turtle named Colin in the Rouge for the last two years, as well as our recently released Blanding’s headstarts all summer.

“It’s really interesting to see how far these little guys traveled over the last few months.” states Paul, “I was really surprised to see each of them take on their own personality that lead them to travel different distances and hang out in different types of habitats.”

By tracking our young Blanding’s Turtles 3x times a week, Paul saw that some tended to stick close to their release area, whereas others traveled over 50m to other wetland types. Some stuck close to shore or on land, while others were always found right in the deepest part of the pond.

“They all have grown quite a bit, which is reassuring because it means they were able to find a sufficient amount of food and adequate basking sites in their new home.” says Paul, “Now comes the interesting part, can they find good hibernation sites?”

Paul generally sees a few painted turtles still out in the sun while tracking.

“So far, with all this warm weather, most of our released Blanding’s Turtles are slow to start burying themselves for hibernation, unlike the older wild turtles which are already in their winter spots,” says Paul.

He jokes, “but each week I generally find another of our young turtles buried down for hibernation, so I guess like me, they’re just not ready to let summer go”.

Adopt-A-Pond staff will continue to monitor the turtles throughout the winter and into spring to locate their potential overwintering sites and monitor they’re successful.

All the best little turtles. Wishing you a cozy winter.