Two Years in the Making: the rehabilitation and release of an adult Blanding’s turtle

For years, Adopt-A-Pond has performed mark-recapture surveys for turtles in the Rouge watershed, much of which is now within the Rouge National Urban Park. Despite this effort, an adult Blanding’s turtle who had never been captured before was found in 2019. While exciting, the circumstances of her being found were troubling, as Parks Canada found her after she had been hit on the road by a vehicle. She suffered trauma to her head and was taken to the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre (OTCC) for treatment.  

The OTCC’s mission is to protect and conserve Ontario’s native turtles and their habitat. One of the ways they do this is through their turtle trauma centre. This is where injured or ill turtles are admitted and rehabilitated until they can be released again in the wild- a turtle hospital! The OTCC is the only organization of its kind in Ontario, and treats turtles from all over the province, thanks to the help of many Turtle Taxi Volunteers who shuttle injured turtles to the hospital and healed turtles back to their home wetland.  

The vets at the OTCC treated the injuries of the female Blanding’s turtle, though for a long time after being healed she was still not eating. Thankfully, she began eating again near the end 2020 and then they gave her another winter to catch up on her feeding while monitoring how she was doing.  By summer 2021 she had made a full recovery due to the amazing work of the OTCC staff and volunteers! After rehabilitating at the OTCC for 2 years, she was ready to be released and we couldn’t wait to bring her back home! 

An adult female Blanding’s turtle is a rare find in this urban population, as Blanding’s turtles are a Species-at-Risk, and are listed as Threatened in Ontario. They are at a very real risk of going extinct. Adult turtles are particularly important to the survival of a species, as they have endured up to 15-20 years in the population and are finally able to reproduce and contribute to the growth of the population. The odds are stacked against young turtles (this is why we headstart Blanding’s turtles, to help get them through this stage), and very few individuals survive to adulthood. It is very important that the few turtles who do make it to adulthood stick around and reproduce for a long time. For example, Blanding’s turtles can live and continue to reproduce past 80 years of age!! It is a travesty when adults, who have overcome so many challenges already, have their lives cut short when they are hit on the road by vehicles. 

For this reason, knowing as much as we can about adult turtles (in particular adult female turtles and their nesting activity) is very important!  

On her release day in June, we were excited to see her back in her home! We noticed she has a cute tooth-shaped indent in her mouth that we call her “snaggle” tooth. She was finally free to swim and dig through substrate again. 

We attached a transmitter to the back of the healed turtle’s shell before her release, and through this we have been able to track her whereabouts since. For most of the summer she did not stray too far from her release pond – likely exploring the area and getting readjusted to being outdoors again. Now that it is colder and approaching winter, she has made a sudden move 200m away from her pond! It seems she is on route to find a nice spot to overwinter. We will continue to track her throughout the winter to identify her overwintering spot, and provide an update post in the spring/summer to see how her behaviour has changed with time! 

So far, we have found that she enjoys the mud… a lot! She buries herself in the substrate- likely to keep cool and hidden.  

Stay tuned for more updates on this cute snaggle toothed girl, and a BIG thank you the OTCC for all the hard work they do to save Ontario’s turtles!! 

If you find an injured turtle in Ontario, please call the OTCC at: (705) 741-5000  

Visit the OTCC website for more information: https://ontarioturtle.ca/