Frogsicles and Cool Turtles

by Sheila Zimanfrozen turtle

While we ski over deep snow or curl up by the fireside, frogs and turtles are coping with winter through a number of survival strategies.

Terrestrial frogs normally hibernate on land. American Toads and other frogs that are good diggers burrow deep into the soil, safely below the frost line. Some frogs, such as the Wood Frog and the Spring Peeper are not adept at digging and instead seek out deep cracks and crevices in logs or rocks, or just dig down as far as they can in the leaf litter. Wood Frogs and Spring Peepers are able to freeze without sustaining damage.

Hibernating aquatic frogs such as the Leopard Frog and American Bullfrog usually hibernate underwater; however, they don’t dig into the mud like turtles. They must be near oxygen-rich water and spend a good portion of the winter just lying on top of the mud or only partially buried. They may even slowly swim around from time to time.

Blanding’s Turtles hibernate completely underwater from late October or early November until the early spring. This cold-blooded reptile only needs to burrow itself in cold, muddy bottoms to stay warm. Its metabolism also slows so little oxygen is needed and it doesn’t have to search for food. Unlike most turtles, the Blanding’s is quite happy in the cold water; on occasion it is seen slowly swimming underneath the ice in areas where they winter.

Snapping Turtles burrow in mud bottoms or use muskrat burrows or lodges to overwinter. Large congregations sometimes hibernate together.  Painted turtles share a similar hibernating pattern to other turtles, but if the weather is not conducive to leaving their nests, hatchlings will overwinter in their nests to emerge in the early spring.

Turtles will emerge from hibernation in late April or early May.  At this time they may cross roads in search of food and mates in connecting wetlands.  In June, females may cross roads to lay eggs on the road shoulders.  Five out of the six species of turtles in Haliburton County are at risk.  Turtle road mortality and loss of habitat are the primary reasons for population declines.  Please slow down while driving at this time.  If it is safe to do so and you choose to move the turtle across the road and out of harm’s way, move it in the direction it is travelling.

The Haliburton Highlands Land Trust, in collaboration with its partners, U-Links Centre for Community Research and Glenside Ecological Services, will continue their turtle project in 2015.  This research project has been generously funded by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.  Last fall, at a site on Gelert Road, the Land Trust erected a turtle barrier fence to funnel turtles towards an existing culvert.  The culvert will provide an underpass and allow turtles to access the adjoining wetland without traveling on the road surface.

This May and June, the Land Trust will be monitoring three sites for turtle activity – one test site with barrier fencing and two control sites.  If you would like to help with this exciting new research, please contact the Land Trust at or call 705-457-3700.


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