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Turtles in Nova Scotia

There are 7 different types of turtles in Nova Scotia including both sea turtles and freshwater species. If you werent aware, Nova Scotia is a Latin phrase that translates to new Scotland.

This province is composed mostly of native English speakers. The province is the most populous of Canada’s Atlantic provinces. Nova Scotia has diverse wildlife however we will be focusing mainly on the turtles of this geographic range.

In all, Nova Scotia is home to seven turtles. Three of these are giant sea turtles namely Atlantic leatherback., Atlantic loggerhead, and Atlantic Ridley.

The other four are freshwater turtles and these are Blanding’s turtle, common snapping turtle, eastern painted turtle, and wood turtle. These turtles are protected from collection and ownership within Canada.

SeaTurtles in Nova Scotia

1. Atlantic Leatherback

Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys Coriacea) in Isla La Tortuga, Venezuela
A beached Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys Coriacea) in Isla La Tortuga, Venezuela. – Source
  • Family: Dermochelyidae
  • Scientific Name: Dermochelys coriacea
  • Other Common Names: lute turtle, leathery turtle, the luth
  • Adult Size: 551 to 1982 lb (250 to 900 kg); 57 to 63 inches (145 to 160 cm)
  • Lifespan: 30 to 100 years
  • Conservation Status: Endangered in Nova Scotia, Critically Endangered on the IUCN

The Atlantic Leatherback has been found throughout the Atlantic. They can be seen as far north as Nova Scotia and as far south as South Africa. While they can be found in nova scotia, these turtles do not nest or come to land here.

They do feed off the coast of the province. The nesting sites of the Atlantic populations include Gabon in Central Africa, Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean, Antigua, and Barbuda, French Guiana, Guyana, and Suriname in South America.

In the northern Atlantic, these turtles can be found as far north as Labrador, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia. These turtles are regularly recorded off the coasts of Nova Scotia and other Canadian provinces.

Large numbers have been sighted off the coast of nova scotia.

In fact, between 1998 and 1999 over 300 individuals were sighted by a sample of commercial fishers. Although sightings aren’t common, these turtles are spotted at regular intervals.

In 2020, two leatherbacks (named Ruby and Isabel) tagged off Nova Scotia were revealed to have traveled over 12000 km from Canada to Trinidad.

The species live in open oceans and can be found in all sorts of oceans. They can be found in temperate, tropical, and even subarctic oceans.

They have been spotted off the coast searching for food. D. coriacea nest in tropical beaches and these are the only times they come to shore. As you can see, they don’t come to the shore in Nova scotia.

D. coriacea is a large turtle that can reach lengths of 63 inches (160 cm) and masses of 1983 lb (900 kg). The mass range of adult members of the species is 551 to 1982 lb (250 to 900 kg).

The length range of the adults is 57 to 63 inches (145 to 160 cm).  D. coriacea is classified as the largest turtle still alive (not extinct). This turtle has a leathery back and the shell is composed of bones underneath a black leathery back.

There is little information on the lifespan of the species in the wild. Estimates include 30 years, 50 years, and even 100 years or more.

Since D. coriacea is a migratory species and does not breed in Nova Scotia and Canada as a whole, they have not been defined within the jurisdiction of the wildlife agencies in Canada. However, they are identified as endangered under SARA (Species at Risk Act). Also, the species is protected under the provincial endangered species act of Nova Scotia as well as New Brunswick.

D. coriacea is rated as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List. They are also protected under the Endangered Species Act of Nova Scotia as already mentioned.

The Species At Risk Act identify D. coriacea as an endangered species and is protected by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). This makes it illegal to capture, harass, harm, or kill members of the D. coriacea.

The main threat to the wild populations of the turtle is fishing. While the turtle itself isn’t fished or hunted, they tend to get trapped in the nets, longlines, and traplines used by fishers. The collection of the eggs is also a threat to the wild population.

Another huge threat to the species is plastic pollutants within their geographic region. The turtles mistake this plastic debris for jellyfish. The indigestible plastic ends up blocking the digestive tract and killing the turtle.

2. Atlantic Canadian Loggerhead

Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)
Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Scientific Name: Caretta caretta
  • Adult Size: 28 to 37 inches (70 to 95 cm)
  • Lifespan: 30 to 62 years
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, Endangered in Canada

The loggerhead is found in most oceans. In the Atlantic, they can be found from Nova Scotia to Argentina. They can also be found in the Indian ocean and the pacific ocean. C. caretta is generally be found in the open ocean as well as in shallow coastal waters.

The habitat of C. caretta changes with its age. During the early stages, C. caretta can be found in the Sargassum mats of the warm ocean currents. Adults and older juveniles can be found in coastal waters as well as in brackish lagoons, salt marshes, and river mouths.

The loggerhead is named for their heads which are large. The carapace of the species is heart-shaped and aerodynamic. The shell of this species is reddish-brown to yellow-orange in coloration.

The underside (plastron) is yellowish in coloration. Adult mails have longer claws and tails than females.

Adults reach a mass of 169 to 1202 lb (77 to 545 kg) and a length of 84 inches (213 cm). The average straight carapace length of 28 to 37 inches (70 to 95 cm).

C. caretta is an omnivore although the species is primarily carnivorous feeding mostly on decapods, bivalves, gastropods, and bottom-dwelling invertebrates. Animal foods they consume include flying fish, squid, egg clusters, mollusks, jellyfish, sponges, shrimp, sea urchins, cephalopods, and many more.

Some plants the loggerhead turtle consumes include algae, leaves, and macroalgae.

As with other marine turtles, C. caretta has an unknown lifespan. The estimated lifespan of the turtle is 30 to 62 years.

C. caretta is considered a keystone species due to their importance to the ecosystems in which they are found. They directly affect the population of many species. The eggs of the species provide food for many species.

Additionally they feed on several invertebrates and thus controlling the populations of the invertebrate species. Also, the broken shells of the turtle serve as a calcium source for other animals.

C. caretta is rated as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List.

The Species At Risk Act (SARA) identifies C. caretta as endangered and is protected by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). This makes it illegal to capture, harass, harm, or kill any Atlantic loggerhead.

The main threat to the wild populations of the turtle in Canada is fisheries bycatch. While the turtle itself isn’t fished or hunted, they tend to get trapped in the nets, longlines, and traplines used by fishers.

This occurs in a considerable number of fisheries through the loggerhead’s geographic range in the Atlantic.

It is estimated that 10,000 to 100,000 oceanic juveniles and 14,000 to 140,000 neritic juveniles die yearly over the past decade due to fisheries bycatch primarily. In Canada, it is estimated that 200 to 500 oceanic and neritic juvenile deaths occur due to fisheries’ bycatch.

It is estimated that about 1200 adult loggerheads are trapped yearly in longline fisheries in Canada from 2002 to 2008.

3. Atlantic Ridley

Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys Kempii) resting on beach by Mike Oldham
Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys Kempii) resting on beach by Mike Oldham
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Lepidochelys kempii
  • Other Common Names: Kemp’s ridley sea turtle
  • Adult Size: 23 to 28 inches (58–70 cm)
  • Lifespan: 30 to 50 years
  • Conservation Status: Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List

L. kempii is a small sea turtle. In fact, the species is the smallest marine turtle with a length of 21.65 to 30 inches (55 to 75 cm). The adults of the species reach masses of 66 to 110 lbs (30 to 50 kg).

Similar to the loggerhead turtle, L. kempii has a heart-shaped carapace that is olive in coloration. The plastron on the other side is light yellow in coloration.

L. kempii is often confused with the leatherback and the loggerhead turtle (more commonly). The leatherback sea turtle has a leathery shell which L. kempii doesn’t have. L. kempii also has a more pronounced hooked beak than the loggerhead sea turtle.

Very few ridley sea turtles have been spotted in Atlantic Canada. They have been spotted on the coasts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

The turtle is mostly found in the Gulf of Mexico and the east coast of Florida. Atlantic Ridley is a migratory species and does not breed in Nova Scotia. The species nest almost exclusively in Rancho Nuevo (Ocampo, Tamaulipas).

L. kempii is a marine turtle and can be found in coastal marine ecosystems. They prefer to live in depths less than 20 meters from April to September and in waters less than 50 meters for the rest of the year.

Juveniles and hatchlings live in shallower waters (with depths of below 2 meters).

Both males and females reach sexual maturity at age 11 to 35 years. Breeding occurs from April to July. The mature females breed once every two to three years and lay several clutches per breeding season.

Each individual female can lay anywhere from 50 to 200 eggs although the average is 110 eggs. The average gestation period is 55 to 60 days.

As with other marine turtles, there is little known about the lifespan of Atlantic Ridley. However, the lifespan of the wild population is between 30 and 50 years.

The species hold no status under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). The species is however considered to be critically endangered by the IUCN Red List with an estimated 22,341 mature individuals.

There are several threats to the wild population of the turtle however, the main threat comes from fisheries bycatch.

Bottom, top & midwater trawls, hook & line, boat strikes, longline, and several other fishing methods are all part of fishery threats that the species face.

Other threats include illegal collection, ecosystem changes, beach vehicular traffic, oil spills, predation, cold stunning, dredging, and natural catastrophes.

Freshwater Turtles in Nova Scotia

4. Common Snapping Turtle

Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) in meadow
Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) in meadow
  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Chelydridae
  • Scientific Name: Chelydra serpentina
  • Adult Size: 8 to 18.5 inches
  • Lifespan: 47 years
  • Conservation Status: Special Concern in Canada, Least Concern on the IUCN Red List

Chelydra serpentina is an interesting species. These turtles are known for their powerful bites capable of amputating a human finger. This coupled with their aggressive nature makes them pretty dangerous reptiles to be near.

Regardless of this, these reptiles are quite commonly kept aspects in North America, less so in Canada.

In Canada, these turtles can be found from southern Saskatchewan to Nova Scotia. They can also be found across the eastern and central united states from Montana and New Mexico all the way to the Atlantic coast.

The species is quite widespread across their geographic range.

Snapping turtles are quite large with a carapace length of 8 to18.5 inches. They also have a long tail which can be almost as long as the carapace length. The snapping turtle has a flat carapace.

The carapace is dark in coloration (dark brown, tan, or black). The limbs, tail, neck of the species are yellowish in coloration. The turtle has a dark head.

The tubercles on the limbs and neck of the chelonian make them easy to identify.

The snapper as they are also commonly called can be found in many different habitats. Regardless, of where they can be found, they prefer slow-moving bodies of water with a muddy or sandy bottom and abundant vegetation. The species prefer the shallow parts of the bodies of water they occupy.

For instance, within deep lakes, the species prefer the edges of the lake. They can be found in a variety of wetlands and aquatic biomes including bogs, fens, marshes, swamps, creeks, ponds, and shallow bays of lakes.

The large size of the species makes them a challenge to keep as pets. This turtle can only be kept outdoors if you wish to house them.

They require a large pen with a pond and protection from predators especially when young. When kept as pets they have been known to live to 47 years. The lifespan in the wild is estimated to be at most 30 years.

As already mentioned, the species is aggressive even to individuals within their species. Interactions between one another usually get very aggressive.

These turtles are also aggressive towards other animals. They are particularly aggressive when out of water. When in water, they are much more docile.

Approaching a snapping turtle out of water is not advisable as it can cause serious lacerations and even broken bones that require medical attention.

The snapping turtle is rated as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. the global population trend of the species is stable. In Canada, however, the Species At Risk Act (SARA) identifies Chelydra serpentina as a species at risk with a Special Concern designation.

This protects the species from collection and ownership.

5. Eastern Painted Turtle

Eastern Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta picta) in grassy pebbles near Equus Centre, Annapolis, Nova Scotia, Canada
An Eastern Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta picta) in grassy pebbles near Equus Centre, Annapolis, Nova Scotia, Canada. – Source
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Chrysemys picta picta
  • Common name: Common painted turtle, painted turtle
  • Adult Size: 5 to 7 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 years
  • Conservation Status: Special Concern in Canada

C. p. picta is the nominate subspecies of the species Chrysemys picta (the painted turtle). C. p. Picta is one of the smaller of the subspecies. Adult males of the species reach lengths of 5 to 7 inches while adult females reach lengths of 6 to 7 inches.

The coloration of the carapace is black to olive green with a stripe down the middle of the carapace. The carapace also has red markings on the periphery.

The eastern painted turtle’s carapace scutes occur in straight rows across. This is unusual and doesn’t even happen among the other subspecies of the painted turtle. The scutes also have pale leading edges.

The subspecies are often mistaken for other painted turtles – including the western painted turtle and the midland painted turtle. The turtles can be most easily distinguished based on location.

Eastern painted turtles are found in southeastern Quebec, southern New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.

The midland painted turtle’s geographic range overlaps the eastern painted turtle’s range in southeastern Quebec. You can differentiate by looking at the scutes of the carapace.

The scutes of the eastern painted turtle occur in straight rows while the front edges of the scutes of the midland painted turtle fail to line up.

The painted turtle has the widest geographic range of any freshwater turtle species in Canada. The species occur in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, nova scotia, and Prince Edward Island.

The eastern painted turtle occurs in eastern Canada specifically New Brunswick, nova scotia, and Prince Edward Island. C. p. picta lives in shallow bodies of water with muddy/soft bottoms.

They prefer slow-moving bodies of water which includes marshes, swamps, seasonal ponds, creeks, streams, ponds, and lakes. They prefer aquatic habitats with abundant basking areas and aquatic vegetation.

C. picta has a Least Concern designation on the IUCN Red List. As you may have already guessed, the global population trend of the species is stable.

However, in Canada, the Species At Risk Act (SARA) declares the eastern painted turtle (C. p. picta) as a subspecies at risk with a Special Concern designation.

This prohibits the collection and ownership of the species. Threats to the species include the loss of habitats (including wetland loss).

Other threats include road mortality that occurs when females come to land to nest, nest predation, collection for the pet trade & food, presence of invasive species, and fishery bycatch.

Predators such as skunks and raccoons also prey on the eggs of this species. This leads to severe loss.

6. Wood Turtle

Female Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) looking for a nesting site on the beach of Lake Superior - Michigan
Female Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) looking for a nesting site on the beach of Lake Superior – Michigan
  • Experience Level: Intermediate to Advanced
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Glyptemys insculpta
  • Other Common Names: North American wood turtle
  • Adult Size: 8 inches
  • Lifespan: 40 to 58 years
  • Conservation Status: Threatened in Canada

The last species we will be looking at is the wood turtle. This turtle is so-called because of the sculpted appearance of the carapace.

This gives the impression that the carapace is wooden and carved. The carapace of the species is about  6 to 10 inches in length and has a varying amount of black, brown, and yellow coloration.

In all, however, the carapace is dark in color. Hatchlings lack the bright coloration which only presents itself as the turtle grows. Hatchlings also lack the sculpted wooden look of the carapace.

The species can be found in southeastern Ontario, southern Quebec, and much of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The wood turtle is a semi-aquatic turtle and can be found in aquatic biomes such as thieves and streams. They prefer habitats with moderate moving waters.

The beds of these rivers and streams are usually gravel or sand, gravel or sand bars, or undercut muddy banks. The wood turtle can be found out of water during the summer.

There are, however, hardly ever a few feet from their aquatic habitat.

The species is designated as a threatened species on the list of species at risk. This designation is due to their decreasing population which is caused by habitat fragmentation and loss.

Habitat fragmentation is down to the urban and rural development within the habitats of the turtle.

Likewise, their habitats have also been converted to agricultural lands. Human activities such as these have led to massive losses of the wood turtle’s habitat.

These turtles have lengthy lifespans and low reproductive rates. This means that the loss of adult individuals has a significant effect on the entire population trend.

The species experience high road mortality rates. Additionally, individuals are also poached and collected for the pet trade. Predators such as skunks and raccoons also prey on the eggs of this species.

7. Blanding’s Turtle

Blandings Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) at Crex Meadows wildlife area
Blandings Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) at Crex Meadows wildlife area
  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Emys blandingii (Emydoidea blandingii)
  • Adult Size: 7 to 9 inches or 18 to 23 cm
  • Lifespan: 77 years
  • Conservation Status: Endangered (Nova Scotia population)

E. blandingii is a semi-aquatic turtle that is endemic to the central and eastern parts of North America. The Nova Scotia and the  Great Lakes / St. Lawrence populations are considered endangered on the List of Wildlife Species at Risk.

The turtle is also considered endangered on the IUCN Red List. As you can see, this is a particularly threatened species.

The Blanding’s turtle has a highly domed carapace which is dark in color (brown or black). You may notice yellow spots on the carapace. These spots may be faded or even absent in some specimens.

The underside of the turtle, in particular the plastron, is yellow. The head and limbs of the turtle are black or dark brown in coloration.

The throat and chin of the species are however bright yellow. This physical characteristic makes the turtle very identifiable.

The species reach lengths of 7 to 9 inches or 18 to 23 cm. As you can see they are moderately sized freshwater turtles.

The species can often be mistaken for other turtles found in North America and within the geographic range such as painted turtle, and the wood turtle. However, none of the turtle species in Canada has a bright yellow throat and chin. 

In terms of geographic range, the species can be found in southern and central Ontario, southwestern Quebec, and Nova scotia.  Nova Scotia is quite tiny and isolated.

The populations in Canada are considered to be decreasing. The population trend is overall negative.

The species is aquatic and can be found in aquatic biomes and wetlands. The turtle prefers environments with shallow water with very little movement.

Examples include bogs, fens, marshes, swamps, creeks, ponds, and shallow bays of lakes. The habitat must provide idea basking locations as well as abundant vegetation which they feed on.

The species is an omnivore and consumes different foods although the most commonly consumed food is crustaceans (such as crayfish) which makes up about half the turtle’s diet.

Other foods include fish, terrestrial vertebrates, insects, arthropods, and carrion.  The species also consume leaves such as bulrush, sedge, duckweed, cottontail, seeds, nuts, and grains.

If you can keep this turtle as a pet (that is you live in a locale that allows the species to be kept as a pet), there are a few things to remember. The Blanding’s turtle is a challenging pet to care for and keep.

The species require particular care. It is best to house the turtle in a large outdoor enclosure that has a pond and is predator-proof. They also require adequate temperatures and UVB radiation.

The turtle is considered endangered on all the available conservation assessment lists in both Canada and worldwide.

The populations are also in decline. All of these make for a depressing read. The main threats to the populations include the conversion of the habitats to urban and agricultural lands.

This is particularly true of the Ontario population. Habitat loss is the biggest threat to the wild populations in Canada. The invasive species, Phragmites australis australis, is a major threat to the populations as these plants have converted the turtle’s habitat and made it unsuitable for the turtle.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there sea turtles in Nova Scotia?

There are several sea turtles to be found in nova scotia. These turtles however d not come to shore.

In addition, these turtles are endangered. As such their numbers are few. It is rare to spot a marine turtle.

The sea turtles that can be found within the seas of the province include Atlantic loggerhead (Caretta caretta), Atlantic leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), and Atlantic Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii).

Can I own a turtle in Nova Scotia?

As with the other provinces in Canada, it is illegal to own a pet turtle in Nova Scotia. If you wish to own one then you need a permit. This can be quite challenging.

Keeping a turtle altogether can be challenging. This includes beginner species. Freshwater turtles are aquatic and require expensive enclosure setups. Additionally, turtles have a long lifespan.

Even the turtle species with short lifespans can easily live to 20 years.

Can I own a sea turtle in Nova Scotia?

It is strictly forbidden to own sea turtles in Nova Scotia. Ownership, capture, and trade of sea turtles can come with serious legal consequences. Sea turtles require a huge marine environment.

Additionally, they are migratory creatures that can travel over 10,000 km to nest. Sea turtles are also endangered and as such their preservation is of utmost importance.

Visit https://seaturtle.ca/ to find out what you can do to help preserve Canada’s sea turtles.

What is the most dangerous turtle in Nova Scotia?

Without a doubt, the most dangerous turtle to your health in nova scotia is the snapping turtle. This turtle is aggressive and vicious especially when out of water.

They are capable of delivering serious lacerations, broken cuts, and even amputated fingers. If you can it is best to stay away from a snapping turtle.

Conclusion

Nova Scotia is located in the east of Canada. No other province is surrounded by the Atlantic ocean.

In the waters surrounding the shores, you can find sea turtles such as Atlantic Ridley, Atlantic loggerhead, and Atlantic leatherback. None of these turtles come to shore. Also since these species are migratory, they move between North America and Central America to South America.

There are also a number of freshwater turtles to be found in the freshwaters of nova scotia.

These species include the eastern painted turtles (which is a subspecies of the painted turtle), wood turtle, snapping turtle, and the Blanding’s turtle. These turtles are protected from collection and ownership within Canada.

They can however be kept as pets in many parts of the United States where they aren’t considered to be at-risk species. Before you acquire any turtle ensure that it is legal to do so within your locale.

If you have any questions or extra information, you can leave a comment.

Other Canadian Provinces

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