Turtles, Pacific Northwest
Turtles live mainly in water, there are about 250 species. Some can live up to 150 years or more. The largest one that visits the Pacific Northwest Region is the leather-back, it can reach a shell length of almost 3 meters and weigh up to 900 kilos.
Though they move very slow on land, the leatherbacks can swim quite fast and some turtles can dive to more than 1000 meters deep.
They do not have ears to hear and can only feel vibrations, but their sense of smell is very strong. Some migrate thousands of kilometers by traveling under water and yet, they are able to arrive at the same beach from where they took off, scientists are still trying to figure out how they do this, l would suspect that they use their sense of smell to accomplish this.
The only native ones left on Vancouver Island is the painted turtle, although there are the introduced red-eared slider and the snapping turtle is found on parts of the Island now, a result of pet store turtles being turned loose.
Red Eared Slider Turtles look similar to the painted turtle. The top shell of the red-eared turtle is higher domed than that of the western painted turtle and is weakly keeled. This turtle has a red earmark located just behind the eye.
The head, neck, and legs are greenish with yellowish stripes. The olive-brown top shell usually has yellow and black stripes. The bottom shell is yellow.
Males are usually smaller than females but have longer claws on the forefeet used to hold the female when mating. The shells of older specimens, especially males, may become very dark. The introduced red-eared turtle occurs with the western painted turtle in many areas of its range and may be confused with this species.
The red-eared turtle is an invasive species on Vancouver Island and could spell trouble for our painted turtle. Most have been released into the wild from people who purchased them as pets
The red-eared turtles are turning up in ponds and lakes across the coast. They are invasive and considered among the world’s 100 most invasive species.
They feed mainly on plants and small animals, such as crickets, fish, crayfish, snails, tadpoles, worms, aquatic insects, and aquatic plants.
Sometimes you can see them stacked 3 or 4 high on a good sunning spot, this quite amazing to observe but it seems there are only so many good spots. The breeding season lasts from late spring to early summer. Courtship and mating activities for red-eared turtles usually occur between March and July and take place underwater. Females nest on land and prefer soft, sandy soil with good exposure to the sun for their nest site. Nests are dug with the turtle’s hind feet, usually within 150 to 200 meters of water. The females will lay up to 30 eggs.
Painted Turtles can be found on the southeast side of Vancouver Island. The one in these photos was in the Victoria area.
Painted turtles prefer the shores and shallows of lakes, ponds, ditches and sluggish creeks and streams that have muddy bottoms and a variety of aquatic plants. Painted turtles also require nearby upland nesting areas that face south, are relatively dry and the soil is easily dug for nesting sites.
During the breeding season, the male will face the female head on and with his long claws will gently stroke her head. The pair will sink to the bottom where mating occurs.
Painted turtles feed on frogs, tadpoles, insects and snails and a variety of aquatic plants. Young turtles are mostly carnivorous but tend to eat more plant life as they age.
The painted turtle is found on the southern portions of Vancouver Island, a few gulf Islands and on the sunshine coast between Powell River and Sechelt.
Painted turtles will hibernate in the mud for up to six months of the year, they can live up to 30 years.
Sometimes you can see them basking on a log offshore, stacked three high. There was another turtle called the western pond turtle but it is not found on Vancouver Island anymore.
The painted turtle is the only native freshwater turtle on Vancouver Island, although there are populations of the red-eared slider turtle showing up in some areas. The slider has red ear spots while the painted turtle does not. Red-eared sliders are an introduced species to the Island. The common snapping turtle has started to become established here on Vancouver Island as well.