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Turtle Tuesdays: Meet Britney, the feisty Wood Turtle

For the month of July, WWF will be celebrating turtles every Tuesday! July is a great time of year to have a conversation about turtles, when people and turtles alike are out basking in the sunshine and enjoying fresh water. In this post, one of our Loblaw Water Fund recipients, Courtney Smith of the Petitcodiac Watershed Alliance, shares her excitement at finding a Wood Turtle in New Brunswick. 

Written by: Courtney Smith, Project Lead, Petitcodiac Watershed Alliance

The Petitcodiac Watershed Alliance is thrilled to be leading the first ever Wood Turtle study in the Petitcodiac watershed in Southeastern New Brunswick. These ancient reptiles are listed as threatened under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) so it’s crucial we locate their remaining habitats and eliminate threats for their future protection.

We found Britney on a sunny warm afternoon in early June.

Britney, the feisty wood turtle © Petitcodiac Watershed Alliance

Britney, the feisty wood turtle © Petitcodiac Watershed Alliance

As we walked downstream, along the pristine river we spotted a large, grassy island that looked ideal for turtle basking. Walking the rivers, we constantly ask ourselves, “If I were a turtle, where would I be?” and we knew from a distance this island was a turtle paradise.  As I moved slowly forward, placing my feet carefully with each step to not crush any delicate hatchlings, my heart raced with anticipation.

I walked around for a few minutes, my eyes darting back and forth across the island, looking for the colour orange. I stopped to be still with my surroundings, as I often do, and listen for movement. And there she was, still as the rocks beneath her, basking in the sun, perfect in nature. By counting the growth lines on her scutes, we aged her to be approximately 15 years old. Given she was a relatively young turtle, we thought it appropriate to name her “Britney” after her teenage human counterpart.

Britney was feisty when we handled her, hissing and spraying us as we weighed and measured her. Once we had all the information we needed to identify her in the future, we set her down precisely where we spotted her, even facing her in the same direction. With the feeling of awe and deep respect that comes with standing face to face with a 200-million-year-old creature, we left Britney on her island to carry on without further disturbance.

Wood turtles can be aged by counting the growth rings on their scutes. Britney is estimated to be approximately 15 years old. © Petitcodiac Watershed Alliance

Wood turtles can be aged by counting the growth rings on their scutes. Britney is estimated to be approximately 15 years old.
© Petitcodiac Watershed Alliance

While they are a freshwater species, Wood Turtles, (Glyptimus insculpta) can travel by land hundreds of metres away from winter sites to reach their summer nesting habitat, year after year. At birth, the toonie-sized hatchlings must make the long journey back to freshwater. Busy roads, lawn mowers, and predators are everyday challenges for these slow-moving and slow-growing creatures.

Wood Turtles take from 14 to 20 years to sexually mature! Along the way, they face natural and human threats as their habitat is increasing lost to urbanization. Agricultural activities, particularly haying, pose a major threat. These turtles love basking in the sun in open fields and eating slugs fresh from the grass. Sadly this can cost them a limb, tail, or even their life, as mower blades regularly sweep the land. Farmers can sharply reduce deaths and injury by simply raising their blades to a minimum of ten centimetres.

Since turtles also like to hide and forage along stream banks, excavating stream banks for agricultural irrigation often leaves them buried. Road injuries and mortalities contribute to their decline, as does their removal from the wild as pets.

We humans are singlehandedly responsible for the threatened status of Wood Turtles. But we can change that. Through education, mindfulness, and care, we can work together to conserve and protect these turtles so Wood Turtles like feisty Britney can grow to maturity, breed and continue to roam the planet for generations to come.