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Turtles in Manitoba

There are two native turtles in Manitoba and these are the common snapping turtle and the western painted turtle. The snapping turtle’s wild populations within the province are considered to be vulnerable while the wild populations of the western painted turtle are considered quite secure. 

Manitoba is a province of Canada and can be found centrally. To the west of Manitoba, you can find Saskatchewan and to the east, you can find Ontario.

Manitoba is the fifth most populous province in Canada and is home to countless animals that inhabit the lakes, prairie grassland, arctic tundra, and boreal forest of the province. Among all these wildlife are the two turtles of Manitoba.

Turtles in Manitoba

1. Common Snapping Turtle

Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) on the sidewalk at Dunham Park, Manitoba, Canada
A Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) on the sidewalk at Dunham Park, Manitoba, Canada. – Source
  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Chelydridae
  • Scientific Name: Chelydra serpentina
  • Adult Size: 14 to 20 inches
  • Lifespan: 55 years
  • Conservation Status: Special Concern in Canada,  S3 (Vulnerable) NatureServe conservation rank in Manitoba

The common snapping turtle is one of the largest freshwater turtles, if not the largest, in the world. In Manitoba, this turtle is the largest reptile.

This giant can reach a length of 50cm and a mass of 16 kg (35 lb). The average shell length of this turtle is 30 to 35 cm. Although the average mass of the common snapping turtle is 16 kg, the heaviest common snapping turtle weighed 35 kg. As you can see this turtle is huge.

The tail of the snapping turtle is also huge and is usually almost as long as the turtle itself.

The shell and body of this turtle are dark brown in coloration as adults. As juveniles, the turtle is black in coloration with white spots.

The snapping turtle is widespread in Canada. In Manitoba, the snapping turtle can be found in the southern third of the province.

For the rest of Canada, these reptiles can be found from Nova Scotia to Saskatchewan. Although they are quite common in eastern Canada, they are quite rare in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

You can find this species in aquatic biomes. While nesting females can be found out of the water, they generally spend most of their days in aquatic habitats.

The snapping turtle is generally found in slow-moving waterways with soft bottoms and an abundance of vegetation.

The turtle prefers the shallow ends of the water bodies they can be found in such as the edges of the waterway. These turtles can be found in rivers, bays of lakes, ponds, marshes, bogs, fens, and swamps.

During the winter, the snapping turtle is known to brumate at the bottom of their aquatic water bodies. Females nest out of water. They prefer habitats such as forest clearings, meadows, and shorelines. They also nest near roads and in agricultural fields.

The turtle is an at-risk species. Several threats threaten the wild populations of the species both in Canada and particularly in Manitoba.

One of the threats that the species face is land development. Much of the aquatic habitats of the common snapping turtle are being converted into agricultural friends and urban settlements.

These types of habitats do not provide the turtle with its needs.

The snapping turtle is generally found in southern Canada. These areas are not only heavily populated, but intensive agricultural operations are also common in these areas.

Road mortality is another major threat to the wild populations. Because of the late reproductive maturity of the turtle, even a loss to a small percent of the adult population can have a significant effect on the overall wild population numbers.

Road mortality is most common among nesting females who have to cross the roads that run through wetlands or adjacent to wetlands to lay eggs. In fact, in some locations, several dozen snapping turtles are involved in fatal road accidents annually.

Another threat to the wild population is the illegal hunting of snapping turtles. While hunting of snapping turtles is prohibited in Manitoba, Quebec, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, and Nova Scotia, illegal harvesting is still a threat the turtles face.

Human activities such as road and housing developments as well as agricultural developments have led to an increase in the numbers of animals that prey on snapping turtle eggs such as raccoons, opossums, and coyotes. This has led to increased rates of nest predation.

Because the snapping turtle is an at-risk species, it is prohibited to keep these turtles as pets in Manitoba. However, in many places in the United States, it is perfectly legal to keep the snapping turtle as a pet.

As a pet, the snapping turtle is a challenge. They require large enclosures and specific care.

The snapping turtle is quite common in southern Canada.

2. Western Painted Turtle

Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii) on a rock near Birds Hill Provincial Park, Manitoba, Canada
A Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii) on a rock near Birds Hill Provincial Park, Manitoba, Canada. – Source
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Chrysemys picta bellii
  • Adult Size: 10 inches (25 cm)
  • Lifespan: 35 to 40 years
  • Conservation Status: S4 (Apparently Secure) NatureServe conservation rank in Manitoba, Special Concern in Canada

The western painted turtle is the only painted endemic to Manitoba. This turtle is quite large and colorful, especially the underside.

For a painted turtle, the western painted turtle is quite large. This turtle reaches lengths of 25 cm.

The females are generally much later than the males. The western painted turtle is easily distinguished from other subspecies by inspecting the scutes of the carapace.

The scutes of the carapace form a mesh-like pattern. Among the subspecies, the pattern is unique to the western painted turtle.

On the flip side, the plastron of the western painted turtle is brightly and intricately patterned. The plastron has red or orange patterns around the edges and several contour-like patterns.

The western painted turtle inhabits permanent water bodies. The western painted turtle can be found in shallow aquatic biomes.

They prefer slow-moving water, soft mud or sand bottoms, abundant aquatic vegetation, and plentiful basking sites. The painted turtle spends a considerable amount of time basking through the day so there must be several basking sites within their habitat.

These basking sites can be fallen logs and other floating debris.

Painted turtles feed in the water. Although they are omnivorous, their feeding habit is highly dependent on the age of the turtle. Older turtles are more herbivorous, while juveniles are more carnivorous.

Animal foods the species feed on include insects, carrion, crustaceans, and fish. Plant foods the turtle ingests include algae and vegetation.

While they do live in marshes, swamps, and other wetlands and prairie potholes, they are most commonly found in rivers.

Females nest outside of their habitat, although usually just a couple of hundred meters away from the habitat. Places where females nest include the shoulder of roads, agricultural fields, forest clearings, shorelines, and meadows.

During the cold months, the turtle will overwinter at the bottom of their aquatic habitat. Here their heart rate drops significantly and they absorb a minuscule amount of oxygen from the water.

Male western paint turtles reach sexual maturity at age 3 to 5 years while females reach sexual maturity at age 6 to 10 years. Breeding occurs after hibernation which is late spring to early summer.

Mating mainly happens in the Fall but that is rare.  Females lay 4 to 15 eggs during summer. Nesting sites include places with soft sandy soil and high sun exposure.

Once the eggs hatch, the hatchlings are immediately independent.

Painted turtles are known to be able to live to 40 years although the average lifespan of the turtle in captivity is 30 years.

The western painted turtle faces a wide variety of threats, especially in British Columbia. For turtles in Manitoba, traits include road mortality which is most prevalent during nesting season.

Nesting females are usually the affected party. Due to urban and road development nesting females have to cross the roads that run through wetlands or adjacent to wetlands to lay eggs. This results in significant casualties.

Human activities including road and housing developments and agricultural developments have led to an increase in the numbers of animals that prey on snapping turtle eggs such as raccoons, and skunks. This has led to increased rates of nest predation.

Other threats include collection for the pet trade and for food, the presence of invasive species, and bycatch fishing which leads to drowning as the turtle is unable to escape.

As with all other native turtles, the western painted turtle is illegal to keep as a pet. However, in many parts of the United States, it is perfectly legal to keep the western painted turtle as a pet.

The species is relatively easy to care for and keep. Because of their large size, they do require either an outdoor pond or a large aquarium or tub.

The turtles are quite tolerant of changes in water chemistry, temperature and are not picky eaters. All of these characteristics make them quite easy to keep.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many turtle species are endemic to Manitoba?

There are two turtle species endemic to Manitoba. These are the turtles covered in this article. The two turtles are the snapping turtle and the western painted turtle.

These turtles can be found in the southern part of Manitoba. Both turtles are prohibited from ownership and trade. It does not matter if the turtle is captive red or imported, it is illegal to keep the snapping turtle or the western painted turtle as pets.

You can spot the western painted turtle basking along the edge of their aquatic habitats. They can also be seen basking on emergent rocks, and floating debris. During the nesting season from late May to early July, you may spot western painted turtles crossing roads.

Snapping turtles are much more difficult to spot as they are camouflaged as rocks. Additionally, they do not bask as often as western painted turtles. As these are large turtles, they are often seen basking along the edges of their aquatic habitats. Just like western painted turtles, you can also find the snapping turtle crossing the road during nesting season.

How do I buy or adopt a turtle in Manitoba?

While keeping turtles native to Canada is prohibited in Canada, you can keep non-native turtles as pets as long as these turtles aren’t threatened in the wild.

Before you buy a turtle make sure that you are ready for the commitment that comes with it. Turtles require specific care.

They are also long-lived. Turtle care can also be expensive. You need an aquatic setup with heating lamps, UV lamps, water filters, and several other types of equipment. These can be expensive to buy.

If you wish to acquire a turtle as a pet, you can do so by visiting your local reptile pet store. This allows you to also acquire things the turtle will need such as a turtle tank, heat lamps, water pump, and such. Otherwise, you can import pet turtles from reputable breeders online.

Adoption is another option. You may need to contact an animal shelter. Some options include Winnipeg Humane Society, Winnipeg Pet Rescue, and Winnipeg Animal Shelter.

Are turtles in Manitoba dangerous to keep as pets?

Turtles are generally not dangerous. However, some species such as common snapping turtles have powerful bites, bites that can cause lacerations.

However, when left alone, they do not attack. It is also important to remember that turtles carry salmonella. This is usually the most dangerous thing about keeping turtles as pets.

Salmonella infection can lead to death among young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems.

However, salmonella infection can be easily prevented by washing your hands. After touching a turtle, its enclosure, or items it comes in contact with, simply wash your hands with water and soap.

Conclusion

There are only two turtles native to Manitoba and these are the western painted turtle and the common snapping turtle.

While the snapping turtle is considered to be an at-risk species, the western painted turtle’s wild populations in Manitoba are considered to be quite secure. As with other turtles endemic to Canada, the turtles in Manitoba are protected from ownership.

Regardless, if you wish to keep a turtle as a pet in Manitoba, there are a lot of choices. A nonnative species is the way to go. It is important to remember that keeping a turtle as a pet can be expensive and require an aquatic setup.

If you have any questions, kindly leave a comment.

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