Not a Painted Turtle

Turtle in Taylor Creek Park. Photo by Heather Kelly.

This turtle could find no peace basking in the morning sun. Unfortunately positioned between a small swamp and a main path through Taylor Creek Park, it attracted attention from people walking by.

I was delighted to see it in the grasses. At first I thought it was a Painted Turtle. Unfortunately, my delight was tempered a bit when I realized it is a Red-eared Slider.

Still a wonderful and beautiful animal. But Red-eared Sliders are an invasive species of turtle likely the result of someone irresponsibly releasing a pet into the wild. And all eight of Ontario’s native turtles are now endangered, threatened, or classified as of concern.

Southern Ontario has the most kinds of turtles anywhere in Canada. There’s the Spotted Turtle with its yellow spots and fiery red-orange-yellow patterns on its face and legs; the Blandings Turtle with its yellow neck and underbelly; the Eastern Spiny Softshell which looks a bit like a green pancake with a head and legs; the Wood Turtle with orange legs; the very small Eastern Musk Turtle  (also called the Stinkpot) with mostly mud coloured body and shell with just a little bit of yellow colouring on its head, the Northern Map turtle with gorgeous yellow and greenish brown patterns on its shell and body; the powerful and larger Snapping turtle; and the beautiful Painted Turtle with red spots around the edge of its carapace (shell) and on its neck and legs. There are actually three subspecies of painted turtle in Canada, two of which live in Ontario, the Midland Painted Turtle and the Western Painted Turtle.

“The Red-eared Slider is the most common non-native species of turtle found in Ontario,” Ontario Nature says, “This species was introduced through the pet trade and is now found in every continent except Antarctica. It has a brown to black upper shell, yellow stripes on its limbs and head, and a distinctive red or orange band around the eyes. Native to the U.S., the Red-eared Slider is commonly sold in pet stores, but many people who buy one do not realize that it can reach a maximum size of 25 to 33 centimetres and live for more than 30 years in captivity.”

The Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre says that “Red-eared Sliders, and other species that are not native to Ontario, are increasingly being found in our wetlands and waterways. These animals do not belong in the wild – they are pets that have been released by people no longer able or willing to care for them. Not only is this not humane for the animal, these exotic species may compete with native turtles for food and other resources.”

Back to the beautiful turtle in the park. Even if s/he shouldn’t be there. Basking is actually really important to turtles, since they can’t regulate their body temperature and they can’t eat if they get too cold. So it was too bad that this turtle was being made uncomfortable by humans as s/he tried to bask in the morning sun.

Red-eared Slider turtle. Photo by Heather Kelly.
Red-eared Slider turtle. Photo by Heather Kelly.

Turtles have a long history of being associated with wisdom, longevity, and the creation of the world.

Some of these stories are summarized on Wikipedia:

“According to Iroquois oral tradition, “Sky Woman fell down to the earth when it was covered with water, or more specifically, when there was a “great cloud sea”. Various animals tried to swim to the bottom of the ocean to bring back dirt to create land. Muskrat succeeded in gathering dirt, which was placed on the back of a turtle. This dirt began to multiply and also caused the turtle to grow bigger. The turtle continued to grow bigger and bigger and the dirt continued to multiply until it became a huge expanse of land. Thus, when Iroquois cultures refer to the earth, they often call it Turtle Island.”

“In Cheyenne tradition, the great creator spirit Maheo kneads some mud he takes from a coot’s beak until it expands so much that only Old Grandmother Turtle can support it on her back.

In Mohawk tradition, the trembling or shaking of the Earth is thought of as a sign that the World Turtle is stretching beneath the great weight that she carries.”

“In Hindu mythology the world is thought to rest on the backs of four elephants who stand on the shell of a turtle.”

In Chinese tradition, the turtle is sacred and symbolizes longevity, power, and tenacity. In Chinese stories, the turtle helped Pangu create the world by holding up the sky with turtle’s legs.

There are many more instances of turtles in cultures around the world. Wikipedia’s Cultural Depictions of Turtles in various countries and cultures can be read here.

The Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre can be found online here.

You can visit Ontario Nature, the conservation organization, here.

If you are interested in adopting a rescue turtle as a pet, check out Little ResQ.

Turtle wipes her face as she eats

One of the painted turtle’s enclosures was very low on water. This turtle has been there a while and has a half-moon chunk of bone missing from the back of her carapace. She is usually the most active of all the turtles in care, often climbing the incline of her large bin. And making noticeable thumping sounds as she does.

I checked the chart and “normal setup” was indicated, which meant there should be more water than there currently was in her enclosure. And upon checking her chart, I realized that she was also due for a full cleaning and feeding. So I got to it.

I moved her to a smaller plastic critter carrier and covered it with a pillowcase to reduce her stress. Drained the last of the water from her bin, moved all of the rocks and washed them and the gravel, washed the inside walls and bottom of the bin. Replaced everything, and as the bin was filling I went and got her meal for the day: 4 mealworms, 2 earthworms cut in half (I always feel badly and apologize to the earthworms), 3 commercially-made turtle pellets, and a large pinch of very fine tiny lettuce pieces.

So once the bin was refilled with temperature-correct water, and the food was added, and floating or swimming in her water, I returned the turtle to her hospital home.

She was hungry! First thing she did was go after the earthworms. As I watched, she used each of her front feet to wipe her mouth.

It took me a minute to realize that as she was taking a mouthful of earthworm, she was swiping the remaining worm – the part wiggling outside of her mouth – off! In effect, cutting off the parts outside her mouth so she could swallow what she had more easily. She would then eat the pieces she had swiped off a moment earlier.

She used feet on both sides – sometimes swiping with her left, the next bite it might be her right. Very effective of course. Like wiping her mouth after each big bite!  

Image: ©Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark

Autumn is baby season again

I am happy to be in the nursery again – tonight I fed four squirrel babies through syringes with nipples, and they all ate like champs! Every one of them put their tiny little front paws on the syringe and didn’t want to let go with their mouth or feet when I had to remove the nipple to refill the syringe.

Each of them ate about 12ml of Esbilac, which is 4 syringes full. Most of these babies would normally be fed a special formula but the TWC was out of formula, so all of the squirrel and chipmunk babies were getting puppy Esbilac. They loved it!  

When I was first learning to feed baby squirrels in April and May, a baby grey squirrel kicked my ass. He was squirmy and bitey and got his little claws into my hands. (No blood, just scrapes from his clingy antics.) The little guy’s tiny heart was racing and he was shivering with fright as I tried to feed him. And he pooped constantly – tiny little yellow-brown balls of fear. Little feisty acrobat. 

But back to this evening: I also held two babies for fluid injections to hydrate them. Many of the patients of all species are dehydrated and require fluids this way.

I also held warm tiny chipmunk babies. First time I’ve held a chipmunk at all, and the three I held were tiny little babies about the side of my thumb. One, the newest arrival who came today, still hasn’t opened its eyes yet. They are fed four times per day currently, alongside baby squirrels who are being fed two to four times per day, depending on their size and age.

At the end of the night I fed a little brindle girl squirrel who was so sleepy she had a hard time eating. She would eat from the tip of the syringe with the nipple on it, then fall asleep. I put the nipple of the syringe more fully into her mouth and she didn’t fuss but some of the formula just dripped out – she was sleeping instead of swallowing.

It is important for them to be fed, even if they are sleepy – like all babies – so I kept trying. She didn’t take as much as she eats in the daytime, but she managed to get 12ccs of formula (about 4 syringes worth) before being put back into her enclosure for the night.

Right now the squirrels are so young, it’s not difficult reach into their large wire enclosure, open the shoebox, and find the correct squirrel to be fed, from among the pile of mostly sleeping babies all curled put together.

Its also time for turtle babies!

Today I checked on two tiny baby painted turtles that had just been born (hatched) earlier that day! They were alert and active, and swimming and hiding. Their little carapaces are just smaller than a loonie, with red colouring all around the outer edge, and their tiny little baby heads coloured with bright yellow patterns. In an adjacent enclosure, there’s also a tiny baby snapping turtle who was born 5 days ago. More to come, as the eggs in the incubators start to hatch!