SNAPPING TURTLE PROTECTED FROM HUNTING
Robert Moos, GBA Director
It is now illegal to hunt Snapping turtles in Ontario.
The Snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) was listed under the Endangered Species Act as a “special concern” species back in 2009. This listing recognized that, while the population was not threatened with extinction, there were reasons to be concerned about declining population levels. Nevertheless, provincial hunting regulations continued to allow “hunting” of turtles by taking up to two per year. Presumably this was to meet a demand for turtle meat, as there is not much sport involved in gathering turtles. For years environmental organizations have lobbied Ontario to stop the hunt. These efforts have been successful. This spring a decision to end hunting of snapping turtles was posted on Ontario’s Environmental Registry.
Snapping turtles first evolved about 66 million years ago. Today they can be found in shallow bays, ponds and wetlands, including along Georgian and amongst inland lakes. Populations have been declining because Snapping turtles have poor reproductive success. In our cool climate they do not breed until they are 15 to 20 years old. They must bury their eggs in easily excavated soil, these days most often along or on roadways; many turtles are killed by vehicles. Another threat is egg predation by raccoons and other animals that have become more common thanks to the presence of humans. While 40 or more eggs may be laid in a nest, few or none of the hatchlings may survive to breeding age.
Weighing 5 to 10 kg on average, Snapping turtles may live as long as 100 years in exceptional cases (one this old has been monitored in a Algonquin Provincial park) and may grow much larger. Despite their powerful jaws (they have no teeth) they are not a threat to humans if left alone. Cornered on land, where rapid escape is not an option, they may defend themselves if harassed; in the water they are excellent swimmers and will simply swim away if bothered. Snapping turtles will eat just about anything, including algae, fish, insect larvae, crayfish and dead animals.
Certainly not beautiful in a conventional way, these ancient creatures have a sort of troll-like charm. Their presence enriches our aquatic ecosystems. The end of the Snapping turtle hunt is overdue and welcome.