Background: The BMNHC covers for the work of Aleta Karstad and Frederick W. Schueler,
seeking to explore, conserve, and communicate understanding of
landscapes, their living communities, and their natural history and
biotic diversity, through art, scientific research, conservation of
populations, data, & specimens, publication, and collaboration with
individuals & organizations with similar goals.
The Bishops Mills Natural History Centre is pleased to confrm the occurrence of the "Threatened" Blanding's Turtle, Emydoidea blandingii in the Lester Road wetland, Ottawa, Ontario, an area which is threatened by changes associated with the construction of the north-south Light Rail Transport (LRT) system proposed by the City of Ottawa. There were old rumours that the species occurred there, there is apparently adequate habitat for summering, nesting, and hibernation, a local resident saw a turtle that could only have been this species in June, and now a weathered roadkill from the site has been identified as a juvenile Blanding's Turtle, Follow this link for an account of the search for Blanding's turtles here.
Blanding's Turtle is a large turtle with a bright yellow throat and chin, and a well-developed hinge in the plastron or under-shell -- which is flesh-coloured or yellowish with a large dark blotch in the corner of each scale. The light-speckled smooth domed carapace or upper-shell of the adult ("like a World War II German helmet") is easily recognized, though the speclklings on the carapace may be absent or fade in some individuals. Adults reach up to 28 cm carapace length; juveniles have a flatter, rougher shell often with more contrasting spots than those of adults.
Blanding's Turtles are found in a narrow latitudinal range, mostly north of the limit of glaciation and south of the Boreal Forest, between Nebraska and Nova Scotia. In May 2005, the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population of the Blanding's Turtle, in Ontario and Quebec, was protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA), with the status of "Threatened." The isolated Nova Scotia populations have long been regarded as "endangered." Throughout its range Blanding's Turtle is patchily distributed: in Ontario records are concentrated along the edge of the Canadian Shield, and in eastern Ontario the species has not been confirmed east of Petrie Island and Limerick Forest. Fairly intensive searches in 2006 throughout the South Nation River drainage and in LaRose Forest have not turned up Blanding's Turtles in what seems like appropriate habitat.
Alerted to the threat the LRT project might pose to this area, the BMNHC spent seven field days, mostly in June, surveying the area north of Lester Road and around High Road. The wetlands and woods between Lester and Hunt Club roads are a very diverse mosaic of contiguous habitats: shrub swamps that would be plausible habitat for the Blanding's Turtles; vernal ponds extending into swamps, low woods dominated by alien Earthworms, sandy woods with a relatively intact flora, the open Monarch Butterfly fields in the centre of the area, grassy tracksides that support populations of the large native land snail Neohelix cf albolabris (as evidenced by scattered shells on the railbed), the non-freezing North Pond, and woods south of there with large trees, but an understorey made up of forest edge herbs.
(continued with more background discussion below photographs)
Feldman and Parham (2002, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 22(3): 388-398 and Turtle & Tortoise Newsletter 6: 28-30) proposed that the genus Emydoidea, of which the Blanding's Turtle is the only living representative, be synonymized with the genus Emys, but Stephens and Wiens (2003, Ecological Diversification and Phylogeny of Emydid Turtles. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 79: 577-610) disagreed with this and recommended that the Blanding's Turtle be retained in the genus Emydoidea.
The search for Emydoidea at this site was sponsored by Save our Greenspace, a coalition of neighbours of the area who are seeking to minimize the fragmentation of habitats in areas affected by the LRT project.
Individual turtles may be releases from captivity, rather than representatives of a natural population. The fact that the Blanding's Turtle found at Lester Road was a juvenile, and obviously a different individual from tha adult seen in June, adds credence to the idea that there is a reproducing population here, however small it may be.