There is so much to know, and to love, about the Interior's endangered painted turtle | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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There is so much to know, and to love, about the Interior's endangered painted turtle

A painted turtle soaks up some rays in Kelowna.

If you live in the Interior, there’s a good chance you’ve spotted a painted turtle, or at least seen a turtle crossing sign.

These neat creatures can be found doing what they love best — sunning themselves — on logs and rocks in lakes or marshes from roughly May to September. 

“They’re very low-key animals,” Pat Turner, with the Shuswap Naturalists Club says. “They don’t make much noise, they just want to catch food and sit on logs and bask in the sun.”

Fun fact: turtles can only hear low-frequency sound vibrations, like the beating of a drum, according to the Ministry of Environment. That’s why they often seem oblivious to human voices, which are high frequency.

Painted turtles are found throughout the Interior, including Osoyoos, Kelowna, Vernon, Armstrong, the Shuswap and Kamloops, but their B.C. population is small at an estimated few thousand. The species, which is named for its colourfully painted head and underbelly, is considered endangered and of special concern. Don't confuse them for the invasive red-eared slider, believed to have been released by pet owners into wetlands around B.C. 

One of their biggest threats is habitat loss — many of their wetlands have been drained or altered for human needs and the construction of roads near their ecosystems increases mortality rates.

Adult turtles spend their winters hibernating at the bottom of ice-covered ponds and emerge in the springtime to mate. Turtle romance is a competitive affair that starts with several males swimming after a female. The first to catch up with her “uses his long claws to gently stroke her head” and then follows her as she sinks to the bottom of the pond where mating occurs, says the Ministry of Environment.

Turtle eggs spotted in Salmon Arm.
Turtle eggs spotted in Salmon Arm.
Image Credit: Karmen Krahn

Egg laying happens from June to July, and sometimes as early as late May. Females dig roughly 12 cm deep holes and stash anywhere from six to 18 small, marble-sized eggs in them. The eggs — referred to as a ‘clutch’ — incubate for 70 to 80 days before hatching in late August and early September.

These brand new baby turtles stay in the nest all winter and emerge the following spring the size of a toonie. The following journey from nest to pond is a critical time for these youngsters as they often have to cross roads and highways to get to their destination.

One more incredible fact about reproduction in turtles: whether an egg develops into a male or female depends on the temperature of the nest. Warmer temperatures will produce female hatchlings, while males like it cooler.

If you find a turtle on the move, it’s best to leave it alone, for it, and for you.

“They carry water while on the move and if you pick them up they let it go and it’s quite smelly apparently,” Turner says with a laugh.

Painted turtles dine on frogs, tadpoles, snails and aquatic plants. In turn, they are prey for a number of animals, including racoons, skunks and coyotes. If they survive the many threats facing them, and there are many (up to ninety per cent of nests are lost to predators and of the survivors, only one in five will make it to adulthood) painted turtles can live to 30 years old.

Some places to view turtles include McGuire Lake in downtown Salmon Arm, the area in and around Predator Ridge in Vernon, Hardy Pond on Highway 97 in Kelowna, and Green Bay marsh in West Kelowna. You may also be able to spot them at Yellow Lake and Toy Lake in the South Okanagan.

Remember to always keep dogs on a leash and give the turtles lots of space. 

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

We welcome your comments and opinions on our stories but play nice. We won't censor or delete comments unless they contain off-topic statements or links, unnecessary vulgarity, false facts, spam or obviously fake profiles. If you have any concerns about what you see in comments, email the editor in the link above. 

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