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Turtles in Ontario

There are eight turtle species endemic to Ontario and these include the Blanding’s turtle, Eastern musk turtles, common snapping turtle, northern map turtle, wood turtle, spotted turtle painted turtle (specifically the midland painted turtle and western painted turtle), and the spiny softshell turtle.

All these turtles are considered at risk within the province of Ontario except for the painted turtle which is considered to be not at risk within the province. Most of the turtles found natively within the province cannot be kept as pets.

It’s always necessary to ensure that it is legal to keep a turtle as a pet within your locale.

Turtles in Ontario

1. Blanding’s Turtle

Blanding's Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) in the sand at Long Point National Wildlife Area, Ontario, Canada
A Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) in the sand at Long Point National Wildlife Area, Ontario, Canada. – Source
  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Emydoidea blandingii
  • Other Common Names: Ontario’s smiling turtle
  • Adult Size: 7.1 to 9.1 inches (18 to 23 cm)
  • Lifespan: 70 to 77 years
  • Conservation Status: Endangered in Canada, Threatened in Ontario

E. blandingii is endemic to Canada from southern Nova Scotia to southeastern Ontario. It can also be found in the northern United States within the Great Lakes region.

E. blandingii is considered an endangered species on the IUCN Red List. Habitat destination and fragmentation and nest predation are the main threats to the wild population.

In Ontario, the species is considered to be protected from ownership under the Fish & Wildlife Conservation Act. Ontario’s wild population is also considered to be threatened while the Nova Scotia population is considered to be endangered.

In the wild these turtles are semi-aquatic. They can mostly be found in wetland habitats specifically in areas where there is abundant aquatic vegetation that they eat.

Their aquatic biomes include rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, bogs, swamps, and marshlands. The terrestrial biomes include forested areas and grasslands.

E. blandingii has a smooth carapace which is black to dark brown in coloration. The dorsal shells of the species feature yellow spots. The plastron of these turtles has a variety of yellow and black patterns such as a yellow background with black spots.

Housing and caring for these turtles can be demanding and these make the turtles difficult to keep. While hatchlings can be housed in aquariums, adults need to be housed outside.

They also require a pond. Individuals with carapace lengths below 4 inches can be housed in a 40-gallon aquarium. Rubbermaid containers or breeders such as a Waterland tub can be used. You can even house about 3 hatchlings in a 20-gallon aquarium.

Once these turtles reach a carapace length of 4 inches, they need to be moved outside. A small group can be housed in a 30 ft by 30 ft pen with a 15 by 15 ft pond.  If you cannot build an outdoor enclosure then the next best bet is a large Waterland tub. This should provide the turtle with an aquatic area and a dry area.

Provide the enclosure with UVB radiation when housed indoors. A basking spot with temperatures of about 95 degrees Fahrenheit is also a good idea. Have plants, hiding spots, and other objects in the enclosure.

Breeding these turtles is a long-term investment as it takes between 14 and 20 years for these species to reach maturity with an average age of maturity being 18 years.

Mating happens from April to May with nesting occurring in June. the average clutch size is 10 eggs. The older the female, the larger the clutch size is.

2. Common Snapping Turtle

Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) on a grassy road near Rock Lake Access Point No.9, Haliburton County, Ontario, Canada
A Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) on a grassy road near Rock Lake Access Point No.9, Haliburton County, Ontario, Canada. – Source
  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Chelydridae
  • Scientific Name: Chelydra serpentina
  • Other Common Names: Common snapping turtle
  • Adult Size: 8 to 18.5 inches
  • Lifespan: 47 years on average, can reach 100 years
  • Conservation Status: Special Concern in Ontario and Canada

C. serpentina is one of the largest turtles in North America reaching lengths of 20 inches. These large turtles are particularly aggressive when out of water. They have powerful jaws and are capable of breaking a human finger. The aggressive nature of the turtle can make it a challenging pet to keep. Regardless, they are relatively common on the pet scene.

In Ontario, C. serpentina is the largest freshwater turtle native to the province. These turtles have massive legs with tubercles. The shell is large and round and flat.

The plastron is tiny and leaves most of the underside vulnerable. The shell and head are dark in coloration. The limbs and neck have a yellow coloration.

These turtles are endemic to North America and can be found as far south as central Texas and the Gulf of Mexico. In Canada, they can be found from southern Alberta to Nova Scotia.  These turtles are aquatic and not semi-aquatic and live almost exclusively in aquatic biomes and wetlands.

These turtles can live to 100 years however, their maximum lifespan in captivity is estimated to be 47 years. In the wild, their average lifespan is about 30 years.

When kept as pets, they need to be housed in a large water tank or better yet a pond or pool. The water temperature needs to be around 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The turtle also needs a basking spot with temperatures in the high 80s degree Fahrenheit. The air temperature should be in the low 80s.

These chelonians are omnivorous and feed on a variety of foods. These include aquatic vegetation, small mammals, amphibians, mollusks, carrion, eggs, reptiles, insects, fish, and even birds. They are even known to eat other turtles.

These turtles aren’t threatened or faced with extinction. However, they are listed as a species of special concern under the Special Concern” under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act in 2008. From the spring of 2017, it became illegal to hunt snapping turtles in Ontario.

3. Northern Map Turtle

Northern Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica) on a log in a lake in Strathcona, Ontario, Canada
A Northern Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica) on a log in a lake in Strathcona, Ontario, Canada. – Source
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Graptemys geographica
  • Other Common Names: Common map turtle
  • Adult Size: 4 to 10 inches
  • Lifespan: 20 years
  • Conservation Status: Special Concern in Ontario and Canada

Graptemys geographica is also called the common map turtle. This is because they are quite common to find. They are relatively common in the pet trade. In Canada however, they are protected from ownership and collection under the Fish & Wildlife Conservation Act.

Graptemys geographica is considered a species of special concern in Ontario as well as in Canada. In Ontario, these turtles can be found in large water bodies around the Great Lakes.  While they can be found in small bodies of water, they prefer large bodies of water with abundant aquatic vegetation and fallen logs and debris they can bask on.

Males are considerably smaller than females are. While males reach lengths of 3.5 to 6.5 inches, females reach lengths of 7 to 10.5 inches. Mapp turtles are so named because the markings on their carapace and body resemble waterways on a chart or map. The lines on the carapace of this particular species are yellowish with dark borders. The background color of the carapace is grayish brown or olive in coloration. As the turtle grows, the markings and patterns fade.

These turtles are kept as pets. These turtles are relatively easy to keep. They require a large aquarium or an outdoor pen. They also require a basking spot.

The temperature of the basking area should be warmer than the rest of the enclosure with a temperature of about 85 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The air temperature of the enclosure should be 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit while the water temperature should be 72 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mating among this species occurs in an aquatic environment such as in deep waters. The average clutch size of the species is 6 to 20. The turtle reaches maturity at the age of 14 years. Captive breeding is relatively easy and these turtles are relatively easy to find.

G. geographica holds an IUCN Red List status of ‘Least Concern’. However, in the province of Ontario and federally, these are species of Special Concern. The main threat to the wild population is habitat destruction.

4. Wood Turtle

Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) climbing rocks at an unknown location
A Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) climbing rocks at an unnamed location. – Source
  • 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: Endangered in Ontario, Threatened in Canada

The wood turtle is so-called because the rings on the scutes of the carapace (shell)  look like wood carvings. The scutes are well defined for an aquatic/semi-aquatic turtle. This gives the chelonian an interesting appearance.

These species can reach lengths of 6 to 10 inches. The carapace is dark in coloration – gray-brown to brownish. The concentric growth annuli give this turtle a rough shell.

Glyptemys insculpta can be found in all manners of moving waters such as rivers, creeks, and streams. They can also be found near water bodies. Females tend to be more terrestrial. These turtles can be found in Canada and the United States. In Canada, they can be found in Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Quebec. In the united states, they can be found in Michigan, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Connecticut, Minnesota, New Hampshire, new jersey, new york, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The turtle is listed as endangered in Ontario and threatened in the rest of Canada. The species are protected under the endangered species act. Glyptemys insculpta also holds an IUCN Red List status of endangered. Threats to the wild populations of these pets include habitat destruction, fragmentation, and degradation, collection of specimens for the pet trade, road mortality, predation by raccoons.

The species is relatively easy to care for and keep. Glyptemys insculpta will eat a wild variety of foods. As omnivores, they feed on both plant and animal matter. Offer wood turtles beetles, fish, crayfish, worms, and pinkie mice. They enjoy a wide variety of greens, flowers, and fruits. As long as the food is edible and can fit into the mouth, the wood turtle will eat it.

Temperatures you need to maintain include a water temperature of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, a basking temperature of about 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and a water temperature of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you wish to keep the wood turtle as a pet then you need to house them outdoors. A pen of size 5 x 5 ft with a pond is ideal. The pond should cover about half the pen. For every additional individual increase the pen size by 4 sq. ft. If you are to keep several individuals in the same enclosure, make sure to have just one male per enclosure as males will be aggressive towards one another and will fight to the death. Hatchlings and juveniles can be kept in an indoor enclosure until they are about 5 inches in carapace length (SCL).

5. Spotted Turtle

Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) in the grass at an unnamed location
A Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) in the grass at an unnamed location. – Source
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Clemmys guttata
  • Adult Size: 3 to 5.4 inches (rarely exceeds 4.5 inches)
  • Lifespan: 25 years
  • Conservation Status: Endangered in Ontario and Canada

C. guttata is a small turtle that reaches lengths of  5.4 inches but rarely exceeds lengths of 4.5 inches. These turtles have dark carapaces with yellow spots. These spots give the turtle its common name. The plastron (underside) of the turtle is orange or yellowish with dark blotch that covers parts of the scutes. The head of the species is similarly black in coloration and also features yellow sp[ots.

The species reach maturity at between 7 to 14 years and an SCL (straight carapace length) of 3.5 inches. Ontario turtles have been recorded mating at a temperature of about 2 degrees Celsius or 35.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Mating occurs in shallow water. Clutch size among gravid females is 1 to 8 eggs with an average of 3 eggs. The species lay just one clutch per year.

C. guttata is an omnivorous species and feeds on both plant and animal matter. They feed in the water. These turtles will only eat when temperatures are around 15 degrees celsius, they are known to eat animal matter including carrion, amphibian eggs, and larvae, insects, crustaceans, mollusks, worms. Plant matter they eat includes water lily seeds, aquatic plants, and algae.

C. guttata is an endangered species in both Ontario and Canada as a whole. They are also an endangered species on the IUCN Red List. The wild population of the species is on the decline. The wild populations are particularly sensitive to the collection of adults. Even casual collection can significantly affect the population. Other threats to the wild population include habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation as well as traffic mortality.

The spotted turtle is aquatic and also leaves water to bask. Because of their small size, these turtles can be housed in an aquatic tank. You also need to provide a basking area and adequate basking temperatures. Specimens above 3 inches in length can be housed outside, the enclosure needs to be predator-proof to protect from predators such as raccoons.

In terms of feeding, they accept a wide variety of foods. Interestingly, when captured as adults feeding can be difficult as they may refuse foods offered to them. Hatchlings are much easier to feed. They accept worms, insects, greens, and even fruits. Aquatic turtle diets are also acceptable, so are catfish or Koi food. Offering these turtles edible aquatic plants is always an excellent idea as these are healthier options.

6. Spiny Softshell

Spiny Softshell Turtle (Apalone spinifera) in the water somewhere near Bryanston, Middlesex, Ontario, Canada
A Spiny Softshell Turtle (Apalone spinifera) in the water somewhere near Bryanston, Middlesex, Ontario, Canada. – Source
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Scientific Name: Apalone spinifera
  • Adult Size: 5 to 19 inches
  • Lifespan: 50 years
  • Conservation Status: Endangered in Canada, Threatened in Ontario

A. spinifera is a large turtle that reaches lengths of  5 inches to 19 inches. The species belongs to the family Trionychidae. A distinguishing characteristic of Trionychidae is the leathery flexible carapace of the species.

Other distinguishing features include the webbed feet and elongated noses of the species. The species has dark spots on an olive or brown shell.

Males and females are quite similar with males being slightly smaller than the females are.

The species are equipped with pharyngeal gill slits which allow them (aided by the cloaca) to respire underwater.

A. spinifera is an aquatic turtle that can be found in rivers, streams, ponds, lakes, and marches. They can be found in and around the Great Lakes as well as the Ottawa River. The species prefer habitats with small vegetation and a muddy or sandy bottom.

In Canada, this species can be found in Ontario and Quebec. They can also be found in many states of the continental United States as well as Mexico.

The turtle is protected from collection and ownership in Ontario. They are listed as an endangered species federally and as threatened locally (in Ontario). On the IUCN Red List, the species is listed as of Least Concern and the overall population of the species is stable.

The species face a number of threats. Some of these include the collection for food and the pet trade, road mortality, and rotenone contamination.

The species can be kept as pets outside of Canada. You need to check the laws in your locale before adopting one as a pet. The species is relatively difficult to care for and keep.

The species is best housed outside due to its large size. Adult females are too large and must be housed outside. Juveniles and hatchlings can be housed inside in stock tanks, and Rubbermaid tubs.

These turtles don’t bask as much as other turtles, however, it is necessary to provide a basking area that is easily accessible for the turtle.

A. spinifera is a carnivorous turtle. They feed on worms, crustaceans, mollusks, amphibians, fish, crayfish, and aquatic insects. In captivity, the diet of the softshell turtle needs to be animal-based.

Pet owners can offer earthworms, crickets, other insects, prawns, mussels, crayfish, and even commercial aquatic turtle diets. Although the species is carnivorous, they do accept romaine lettuce and aquatic plants.

The spiny softshell turtle is the only softshell turtle native to Ontario.

7. Midland Painted Turtle & Western Painted Turtle

Midland Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata) on the left and a Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii) on the right basking
A Midland Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata) and a Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii) basking on a log at the Visitor Center Observation Pond at the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park, Albuquerque, New Mexico by J. N. Stuart
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Chrysemys picta marginata (midland painted turtle) & Chrysemys picta bellii (western painted turtle)
  • Adult Size: 4 to 10 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 years
  • Conservation Status: Not at Risk in Ontario, Special Concern in Canada

C. p. marginata is referred the midland painted turtle. This turtle reaches a length of 4 to 10 inches. C. p. bellii is referred to as the western painted turtle and is the largest of the painted turtles. The western painted turtle has a length of 10 inches. These are the two painted turtles endemic to Ontario.

The painted turtle is called that because of the orange and red marking on the black shell. The markings resemble paint on the otherwise black shell. Since no other turtle in Ontario bears these makings the painted turtle is quite easy to identify. This chelonian has a smooth shell.

The species prefer shallow freshwater with a mud bottom. They can be found be in slow-moving rivers & streams as well as in ponds & lakes.

Males reach sexual maturity at age 3 to 5 years while females reach maturity at age 6 to 10 years. Females are much larger than males are at maturity. Mating occurs when temperatures are still low after hibernation. The clutch size is usually 4 to 15 eggs. The breeding season occurs from late spring and early summer. The species breeds yearly.

 The species can reach ages of 40 years, however, the average lifespan in captivity is 30 years.

C. picta has an IUCN Red List status of Least Concern. The overall wild population of the species is stable. The painted turtle is also the only turtle classified as Not at Risk in the province of Ontario.

However, discussions to reconsider this status is still underway. The main concern is road mortality which has had a significant effect on wild populations. At a national level, the midland painted turtle is considered to be of Special Concern.

C. picta is quite easy to care for and is recommended for beginners. C. picta is an aquatic species and as such requires an aquatic setup. The setup also needs a basking area. The enclosure should be about 40 gallons in capacity.

The water temperature needs to be at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit and optimally 74 degrees Fahrenheit. If you must, you have to install an aquarium heater. The basking spot temperature should be 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

While the species is omnivorous, they mostly eat plant matter as adults. The plants they feed on are mostly leaves of aquatic plants, macroalgae, and algae.

Adults are mainly herbivorous while the young are predominantly carnivorous. Some animals they feed on include aquatic crustaceans, insects, fish, and carrion. The painted turtle can only feed in the water.

8. Eastern Musk Turtle

Eastern Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) being held at Pinery Provincial Park off Port Franks, Ontario, Canada
An Eastern Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) being held at Pinery Provincial Park off Port Franks, Ontario, Canada. – Source
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Scientific Name: Sternotherus odoratus
  • Other Common Names: common musk turtle, stinkpot turtle
  • Adult Size: 3 to 5 inches
  • Lifespan: 55 years
  • Conservation Status: Threatened in Ontario, Special Concern in Canada

The eastern musk turtle is also called the stinkpot turtle. This turtle gives off a foul odor when disturbed. This smell comes from a foul liquid produced by the turtle’s musk glands.  Sternotherus odoratus can be easily identified by the yellowish plastron and small size. This turtle reaches lengths of just 3 to 5 inches.

The carapace of this species is black or brown. The shell is highly domed and smooth.

The species reach maturity at an age of 3.5 years and have an average lifespan of about 55 years in captivity.

Musk turtles are generally carnivorous but also eat plant matter. They are known to eat mollusks, insects, fish, carrion, and small amounts of vegetation.

The stinkpot can be found in all types of freshwater bodies. This turtle is an excellent swimmer. They hardly ever leave the body of water where they live. They may come up to bask every now and then.

The turtle is classified as a species of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.  In Canada as a whole, the species is classified as a species of Special Concern. In Ontario, the species is classified as threatened.

The wild population in Ontario has been in decile. The male threats to the wild populations in Ontario include habitat destruction and fragmentation as well as road mortality. Eastern musk turtles are protected from ownership and collection under the Fish & Wildlife Conservation Act.

Before you keep the musk turtle as a pet, you must make sure that it’s legal to do so in your locale. This turtle doesn’t require a large enclosure since it is a small reptile. A 20 to 40-gallon aquarium should be large enough for the turtle.

Water temperatures should be around 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Air temperatures should be around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Finally, the basking spot should have temperatures of about 90 degrees Fahrenheit. You can use heat lamps and an aquarium water heating device to achieve these temperatures.

Some eastern musk turtles refuse to eat plant matter and feed exclusively on animal matter, this is particularly true of hatchlings and juveniles. Feed these turtles insects and snails.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it legal to own a turtle in Ontario?

The ownership and collection of turtles in Ontario are illegal and the species are protected under the Fish & Wildlife Conservation Act. This isn’t the case in the United States where many of the species endemic to Ontario can be kept as pets.

Regardless of where you are situated, it is essential that you find out whether or not it is legal to keep or acquire a pet turtle. The legality of ownership changes from one locale to another and from one species to another. It is important to do your research.

Are turtles found in Ontario difficult to care for and keep?

This depends on the species. Turtles such as the Blanding’s turtle, snapping turtle, wood turtle, and spotted turtles are quite challenging to keep as pets. Most of these species require large outdoor enclosures and suitable conditions. Of course, it is always easier to care for a turtle if you live within the species geographic range.

Other species such as the painted turtle and the map turtle are relatively easy to care for and keep. Regardless, turtles require specific needs. Since they are semi-aquatic or aquatic, they need an aquatic setup, water filtration, heating, and many more.

What is the most dangerous Ontarian turtle?

Without a doubt, the most dangerous Ontarian turtle is the common snapping turtle. This species is capable of amputating human fingers. Their bites also cause serious lacerations. These chelonians are also aggressive when out of the water. This species is however commonly kept as pets. If you wish to adopt a common snapping turtle ensure it is legal to do so with your vicinity and that you can provide the needed care.

The softshell turtle is also an aggressive turtle. They can also cause serious lacerations and as such should be handled with care.

How many turtle species are endemic to Ontario?

There are eight turtles native to Ontario and these are the Blanding’s turtle, eastern musk turtles, common snapping turtle, northern map turtle, wood turtle, spotted turtle painted turtle (specifically the midland painted turtle and western painted turtle), and the spiny softshell turtle.

Conclusion

Turtles in Ontario can be found in many different habitats including wetlands such as marshes and bogs, and aquatic biomes such as rivers, lakes, ponds, and streams.

Several of these species are quite popular. While several of the species here are considered to be species of least concern on the IUCN Red List (indicating that wild population numbers are strong), most of these species are considered to be at risk with the Ontario.

The northern map turtle is considered to be of special concern. So is the eastern musk turtle and snapping turtle. The Blanding’s turtle is considered threatened. The wood turtle, spotted turtle, and spiny softshell turtles are all considered endangered within the province.

Other Canadian Provinces

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