Western Painted Turtles
Turtle Season, when hatchlings will emerge from ground-based nests is on now!
Adults were sighted at Thetis, Matheson, and Elk/Beaver Lakes as recently as October 10 2013, thanks to our extended Indian Summer.
Watch for tiny hatchling turtles on south facing open slopes near ponds and wetlands in the following watersheds: Hagan, Tetayut, Bilston, Craigflower, and Colquitz. Please report and photograph all observations to Todd at HAT: 250 995 2428.
HAT has partnered with the federal Habitat Stewardship Program since 2005 to provide landowner contact services where Species-at-Risk may live. We are meeting with private landowners from Sooke to Galiano hoping to gain knowledge of the distribution and habits of our rare Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii ~ Pacific coast population).
The species' coastal populations are federally listed as endangered. Painted turtles require very specific freshwater habitats that are threatened by rapid urban development. Road mortality and nest site disturbance are two other main threats.
Learn to identify a Painted Turtle with the Ministry of Environment's identification sheet (3.2MB PDF) or scroll to the bottom of the page.
(photo of hatchling by Christian Engelstoft at Beaver Lake).
HAT's Turtle Research and Conservation Project
Since 2008, HAT has collaborated with biologists Christian Engelstoft, MSc, RPBio, and Kristiina Ovaska, MSc, PhD, in a study of Western Painted populations on Vancouver Island and Gulf Islands. The study focuses on finding out more about the distribution and habitats of the turtles and about threats facing their populations. An important aspect of the project consists of collaborating with landowners to mitigate threats and to protect and restore important habitats, such as nesting sites.
From 2008 – 2011, we surveyed 95 wetlands or wetland complexes for turtles, some repeatedly over several years. The surveys have focused mainly on the Capital Regional District and Alberni Valley. The sites included water bodies in urban and rural areas and in forested backcountry, and were selected based on habitat suitability or following tips from residents. The Western Painted Turtle was present sporadically throughout the areas surveyed on the south and east coast of Vancouver Island and in the Alberni Valley; in total, we found this species at 15 (15.8%) of the sites surveyed. We also solicited information from the public through the media and HATs outreach program. These efforts resulted in additional observations of Western Painted Turtle on land or from small ponds within residential areas. On southern Gulf Islands, we were unable to confirm the presence of the Western Painted Turtle on Pender or Galiano islands. However, the species occurs at several sites on Saltspring Island, where the Salt Spring Island Conservancy has carried out surveys and collected records from residents.
Information was also obtained on introduced turtles, of which the Red-eared Slider was the most commonly encountered species (found at 21 or 22% of the sites surveyed from 2008 to 2011). Most likely, these turtles were released pets, as there is no evidence of them successfully breeding in the wild in BC Release of captive turtles into nature is illegal and potentially harmful for native turtles and other wildlife; introduced turtles can spread diseases or compete for nesting sites, food, or other resources with native species. We also occasionally encountered other exotic turtles, such as the Reeves Pond Turtle, Eastern Painted Turtle, and Cumberland and Yellow Belly sliders.
On southern Vancouver Island, populations of the Western Painted Turtle occur within urban and rural areas, and are threatened from shoreline development, intensive recreational use, road mortality, and nest predation by raccoons, other predators, and/or free-roaming pets. In Alberni Valley, turtles occur within forestry lands and are vulnerable to some activities associated with forest harvesting, such as modification of water regimes and modification of riparian habitats, and from road kill on logging roads while migrating between water bodies and nesting areas on land. In all areas, turtles are particularly vulnerable on nesting grounds, and it is important that these areas be identified and protected from disturbance. Part of our work has been to identify locations and type of habitats that turtles use for nesting.
In collaboration with landowners and volunteers, we have undertaken habitat restoration at four sites. Restoration activities consisted of creating or enhancing of nesting areas at three sites and installing basking logs, which provide warm and secluded sites for turtles to rest and raise their body temperature, at four sites. Monitoring the effectiveness of the restoration activities is on-going, but initial results are promising. Information on techniques for restoring turtle habitat and studying turtles can be found at Collaborative Species At Risk Site.
Annual reports, containing results of the project since 2008 are available in the Resources and Publications section of this website. We welcome any observations of turtles that you may have. If you are a landowner with potential turtle habitat on your land and would like a free, confidential visit by HAT biologists, please contact us.
Learn to identify a Painted Turtle with the Ministry of Environment's identification sheet (3.2MB PDF) or see below.
Did you see an abandoned pet or a native western painted turtle? Compare the two species:
With funding from Environment Canada's Habitat Stewardship Program, we are meeting with landowners who are interested in protecting our region's unique natural heritage. HAT's services are free and confidential.