The arrival of spring means just a few more weeks until these beauties emerge from their hibernation habitats and with two things on their mind – to find food and a little “tail”!
Snapping Turtles are the largest freshwater turtle in Canada and noted as “Special Concern” under the Ontario Endangered Species Act. Their biggest threats are from people or environmental factors such as predators invading the nests and habitat loss. During the winter they remain underwater, buried in mud, only too happy to break free once the ice melts and the days begin to get longer.
Most will mate in the spring and once the Bay begins to warm, females will leave the safety of the water to search for appropriate nesting sites. Nearby shorelines, sandy areas, road sides – all are potential spots for them to dig and deposit their eggs. Mothers will then depart the nest, leaving the eggs to hatch months later and the babies to find their way to the water.
It’s a tough start for these little snappers no doubt, as many of the eggs will end up destroyed before hatching. But those that make it could live upwards of 70 years or more with their shells growing to 18”. Now that’s impressive!
Although these omnivores may look prehistoric and ferocious, they are gentle giants in the water. Curious but cautious, they are often seen floating serenely near the surface absorbing the sun’s warm rays, or moving along the bottom hunting for food.
However should you encounter one on land, be sure to keep your distance as that’s when they will show their snappy side, their long necks able to extend at lightning speed! And the males can be particularly aggressive if interrupted while searching for a mate!
But if you find one swimming near you, don’t panic – they are likely looking for food, all too well aware that boats and people tend to drop tidbits into the water. And never intentionally feed them or pick them up.
Snapping turtles have a lot in common with us boaters and cottagers: they enjoy the Bay from May until October, they are happiest when on the water, they like their privacy, and the winter is far too long and dark for them as well!
And most importantly they play a critical role in maintaining healthy aquatic ecosystems across the Bay so when you see them, celebrate their beauty and respect their space!
Some resources for more info on Snapping and other Ontario turtles:
Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre – ontarioturtle.ca
Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve – gbbr.ca