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Important Area for Amphibians and Reptiles


Barry Gray, the Hamilton Spectator
Photo Courtesy of Environment Canada
Turtles well looked after here
Group forms to help critters get across the road at Cootes Drive

, The Hamilton Spectator
(Jun 25, 2009)

Cootes Paradise at the west end of Hamilton Harbour is now labelled an IMPARA -- an Important Area for Amphibians and Reptiles -- by a national organization concerned with conservation of snakes, salamanders, turtles and similar critters.

As if to prove the designation is deserved, Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) staff found a rare stinkpot turtle (a full-grown male) this spring at the Cootes Paradise Fishway where unwanted carp are turned back to the harbour and desirable species, including turtles, are allowed to enter the marsh.

The stinkpot, or eastern musk turtle, earns its name by releasing a musky, skunk-like smell when disturbed or handled. Growing to no more than 13 centimetres, it is among the smallest turtles in Ontario and threatened both provincially and nationally.

Karla Spence-Diermair, species-at-risk biologist for the RBG, says a stinkpot hasn't been seen in Cootes since 2001, when another was recorded at the fishway.

"We know there used to be a population in Carroll's Bay and Sunfish Pond (near Valley Inn), where they were seen regularly in the 1960s. He's likely a remnant."

RBG properties are also home to:

* Painted turtles, a species that is not endangered. Spence-Diermair says: "They're doing just fine; there are tonnes of them."

* Snapping turtles, listed by Environment Canada as a species of special concern. Numbers here are declining, even though they're regularly seen along roads during nesting season.

* Blanding's turtles, the size of a bike helmet when fully grown, live 80 years or more. Their eggs are favoured by raccoons and skunks. Threatened nationally and provincially.

* Map turtles, reduced to two sites, one in Cootes, the other in Hendrie Valley. Often seen basking on logs and rocks.

* Spiny, soft-shelled turtles, remnants of a population that is almost gone, last caught at the RBG in 2003. Threatened in Canada.

* Red sliders, a non-native species sold as pets and released by their owners. Not threatened. Not wanted.

Some turtles don't breed until they are 20 years old, and females tend to return to the site where they emerged from eggs, even though the landscape changes as roads are built and development spreads.

Many of the Cootes turtles have to cross roads such as Cootes Drive, Olympic Drive and King Street East, where they can be killed by cars and trucks or blocked by curbs until they die.

That's why a Dundas Turtle Watch group has formed, with volunteers already patrolling roadsides to rescue turtles in trouble.

It's has a website under construction that can be found at dundasturtlewatch.wordpress.com. For information, e-mail: dundas turtlewatch@hwcn.org.

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