From hungry animals to poachers to invasive species like the common reed overrunning their homes, spotted turtles face a host of challenges that have driven them close to extinction.
Spotted turtles are the most cold-tolerant Ontario turtle species and are the first to emerge to bask in the spring — sometimes sunning themselves next to mounds of melting snow. Spotted turtles are thought to take 20–30 years to mature. Nesting occurs in June, when females lay a small clutch of eggs. In rare cases, a female may lay two clutches of eggs in a single summer. Spotted turtles feed on a wide variety of invertebrates, vegetation and dead creatures.
Spotted turtles prefer very shallow wetland habitats including fens, bogs and shallow streams and marshes. It is rare to find them in water deeper than one metre. Shortly after emerging from their hibernation burrows in spring, adults congregate at their favourite ponds to mate. Females lay eggs in soil and leaf litter in wooded areas close to wetlands. Turtles remain active until the fall, when they gather in groups to hibernate underground.
In Canada, spotted turtles have disappeared from Quebec and are only found in small, isolated populations in Ontario. There are thought to be about 2,000 individuals left in Canada.
Major threats to spotted turtles include habitat destruction, illegal collection for the pet trade and being hit on the road by vehicles. Nests are vulnerable to human-subsidized predators, such as raccoons, skunks and foxes, whose numbers are artificially inflated by access to human garbage, crops and other food sources. Recovering this species is complicated by how long it takes spotted turtles to reach sexual maturity. Another issue is the fragmentation of populations. Because these turtles do not travel long distances, shrinking populations can become permanently isolated from one another, reducing genetic diversity.
Recommended Recovery Actions
Among other measures, the proposed federal Recovery Strategy calls for the protection, management and restoration of habitat; stewardship activities to reduce the disturbance of nesting habitat; and the development of a cost-effective headstarting program.
What We Are Doing
Find out how Wildlife Preservation Canada helps save Canada’s reptiles and amphibians, including spiny softshell turtles, and how you can make a difference.
Federal Species at Risk Profile: Spotted Turtle