A million mosquitoes bite in the night

Thinking about the end of the western painted turtle nesting season has me feeling… itchy. We were so fortunate to experience not one but three flooding events from a large snow pack this year. This meant the Fraser River rose three times, and that allowed the mosquito eggs on the shore more opportunities to hatch out… and bite us. The mosquitoes haven’t been this bad since 2011.

 It makes nest monitoring a little challenging when you’re swarmed by mosquitoes but you’re trying to focus on the turtles. The turtles were a struggle this year too. It wasn’t their fault, the weather just wasn’t in their favour.

Western painted turtles won’t nest in cold weather or when it’s raining. They like it hot and sunny, but BC was hit with “Juneuary” this year so it was a slow start for the turtles.

One of the reasons I became involved in conservation work is because I loved the idea of working on a population scale – working to build up a population of an endangered species to the point that they’re no longer endangered. I think a lot of my colleges share that passion as well, so we were all concerned about this year’s nesting season.

When animals only breed one time a year it can feel like you only have one shot, one opportunity… to seize everything you ever wanted, in one moment… would you capture it, or just let it slip? (sorry, I got carried away with my Eminem reference, back to turtles!).

The trouble is, we can’t do anything about the weather. So we had to wait it out. In July things got better and the turtles didn’t waste a moment making up for lost time. What started out as a slow year ended really well! We observed 62 turtles successfully nesting – our highest so far – and collected eggs for head starting as well as protected nests that remain in the wild from predators.

We probably also got a record number of mosquito bites, but we weren’t counting, we were itching. The mosquitoes were everywhere. They followed us outside. They fly into our cars. They wait on our windshields for us to come out like some kind of horror movie. My husband admitted that nest monitoring was not the most favourite of the jobs I’ve had. One morning, after I had been out nest monitoring, he went to get into the car and then ran back into the house 30 seconds later to grab paper towels, saying “Oh my gosh, there are so many mosquitoes in there.” He said there were 40.  I think he was being a little dramatic. 

As hard as the mosquitoes are to deal with, the bites fade and the itching stops, but our successful nest monitoring season will feel good for a long time after.

Maja Hampson

Western Painted Turtle Nest Monitoring Technician

Maja has worked with WPC’s Fraser Valley Wetlands Recovery Team since 2018, and has spent the 2020 season conducting nest monitoring.