How Turtles Use Wild Plants

Painted Turtle Soapstone Carving
Painted Turtle Soapstone Carving
(Rachel’s first rock carving!)

This is going to sound “VSCO girl”, but I LOVE turtles! The turtles I see regularly around these parts are painted and snapping. I’ve shuttled many painted turtles with cracked shells to rehab, and if lucky, back home. Roads are the primary cause of turtle mortality in Ontario. (Find out how to help turtles cross the road, here. An additional concern is road shoulder grading, which you can take up with your roads department if need be!)

Six species reside in our area (Haliburton County, Ontario, Canada). These are the aforementioned snapping and painted turtles. Plus Blanding’s, spotted, stinkpot, and wood turtles.

Turtle Shelter and Camo Allies

Large/Old Snapper
Large/Old Snapper

Our local turtles have a variety of preferences in habitat, breeding habits, etc. But they agree on their love of dense vegetation for cover, and can be found hiding in all sorts of wetlands here in cottage country. Wood turtles are the more terrestrial of the bunch, but even they stay fairly close to water.

Some of the vegetation is wearable. Duckweed or mosses on their shells give them jungle camouflage. Here’s some green growing on a couple of friends I’ve made:

Mossy snapping turtle
Mossier snapping turtle laying eggs

Sun-loving turtles utilize sedge clumps, partially submerged logs and branches, driftwood, or stumps for basking as far as comfy plants go. I think my spirit-in-the-sky hippie friend Virginia Sangster would love me to share her painted turtle picture she took at her lake, before she walked on:

While most turtles hibernate in the mud at water’s bottom, spotted turtles for one sometimes hibernate within plant allies, like in tree roots.

If you see turtles out and about (e.g. crossing the road) it’s likely for nesting. They usually nest away from food sources and thus away from predators. But not every turtle wants to bury their eggs along the road, in your gravel driveway or the playground sand. The spotted turtle uses moss and lichen to make a nest. Stinkpot turtles sometimes nest in decaying vegetation like rotting wood.

Turtle Food Allies

Although it varies species to species turtles generally enjoy eating crayfish, fish, frogs, and the like. Depending on where they prefer to hang out in the water (e.g. surface, bottom) they may eat insects, tadpoles, carrion, etc. Most species are omnivores, also eating from aquatic vegetation like algae, sedges, milfoil, duckweed, coontail, bulrush, and water lily.

Much of a snapper’s diet comes from plant matter (estimated about a third) despite fishermen’s complaints that the snappers are taking all “their” trout. Besides, a snapper may also eat the ducklings that also eat the fish.

Although not the only species that will eat out on the land, the “extra terrestrial” wood turtles have the most varied diet of the bunch. They are the black bear of turtles here. Mushrooms like the amanita muscaria (that’s the familiar “magic” red one with white dots, which you shouldn’t eat) may account for over a quarter of their diet.

Wood turtles also eat berries fervently. Like foxes, it’s their favorite treat. This includes blackberries, blueberries, elderberries, raspberries, strawberries, partridge-berries, and even (toxic to human) nightshade berries! Fallen apples are another wood turtle treat. They enjoy fruit leaves as well, like strawberry and cranberry leaves, and also the leaves of alder, birch, and willow trees. Mosses and grasses are wood turtle food sources too! And flowering plants they eat are not limited to dandelions, cinquefoils, greenbrier, milkweed, mullein, plantain, pokeweed, sorrel, turtlehead, and our many wild violets.

Local Turtle Conservation Centre

To learn more about our 5/6 most at-risk turtle species here are links to the Haliburton Land Trust’s turtle pages:

Feisty The Painted Turtle
Read about Feisty the Painted Turtle’s rehab and release in a future Wood Folk Diary! You can see a short video now though of his plop into the lake after rehab!

Blanding’s Turtle
Snapping Turtle
Spotted Turtle
Wood Turtle

And all 6 including our painted turtles are in danger from road mortality, predation, agriculture and pollution, and even from invasive species of plants and animals.

Find out more and donate for the love of turtles > Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre’s website.

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