Blanding’s Turtle Headstarting

The slow-breeding Blanding’s turtle is one of many turtle species at risk in Ontario. Find out more about this species.

Headstarting is the practice of raising hatchling turtles in a controlled environment during their most vulnerable stages in order to increase their odds of survival and then releasing them back into the wild. The amount of time a turtle is headstarted can vary, with releases occurring soon after hatching to several years later.

Although headstarting is used extensively in turtle conservation, very little is known about its long-term effectiveness. This radiotracking study by the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre in Peterborough, Ontario aims to reveal whether headstarted turtles can successfully hibernate, survive to maturity and breed. The turtles in this study are headstarted for two years before they are released.

From 2013-16, Wildlife Preservation Canada supported this research, which compares headstarted juvenile Blanding’s turtles with their wild counterparts, evaluating behaviour, survival and growth.

Tracking of wild juveniles revealed that young Blanding’s turtles use different habitat than adults do. The results of this project show that headstarted Blanding’s turtles can survive in the wild for extended periods, including successfully hibernating in consecutive years. Once they are released, headstarted turtles show comparable growth rates and behaviour to their wild counterparts.

The Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre is using these results to choose the best sites to release headstarted turtles, significantly improving their survival rate. Insights from this study are adding to the body of knowledge on best practices for headstarting that can be applied to our national turtle recovery work and to other turtle conservation efforts across North America.

The Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre is a registered charity dedicated to conserving Ontario’s native turtles and their habitat through treatment and rehabilitation of injured turtles, outreach and education, and field research.

Supported by:

  • J.P. Bickell Foundation
  • The McLean Foundation

How you can help: