Over the next two summers, I will be researching the ecology and conservation of Western Painted turtles in Regina and the surrounding area. My primary study site will be the Wascana Marsh, right here in the middle of Regina. You may now be thinking that you had absolutely no idea that Regina was even a home to our fine, shelled friends, and you are not alone. There is however a native population living within the marsh, and my goal is to determine how many there are, what they are up to, and where they like to spend their time throughout the year, including our cold, harsh Canadian winters!

The first two official weeks of the Wascana Turtle Program are now in the books and we currently have data for 10 Western Painted Turtles in the Wascana Marsh including body size, body weight, and sex. All of the turtles that we have captured have painted numbers on the back of their shell which we will use for future identification and six have had a radio transmitters attached to the back of their shell in order to allow us to track their movements over the course of the next two years.

Male turtle with radio transmitter

Male Western Painted Turtle, number 4, displaying the painted number as well as the radio transmitter which will be used by the researchers in order to determine his movement patterns over the next two years.

The largest turtle that we have caught was a female, and she had a carapace (top shell) length of just over 23 cm, and the smallest turtle we have caught was a sub-adult with a carapace length of 15 cm.

In the spring, water temperatures in the marsh are still quite cold and since turtles are ectotherms, their body temperature is similar to that of the surrounding environment; therefore they need to increase their body temperature in order to speed up their metabolism after winter hibernation. To do this, the turtles climb out of the water onto the nearest shore, or submerged log and bask (i.e. sunbathe) in the warm sunshine. This leads to many opportunities for people with a keen eye or a pair of binoculars to spot turtles along the shores of the Wascana area.

Western Painted Turtle site map

Current locations where Western Painted Turtles have been spotted by the researchers in the Wascana Area.

As we approach June, the female turtles will begin nesting. A typical nest is in a sunny area with well-drained soil usually within 200 m or so of a water body. As a result, sightings of turtles on land may become more common. If you do see a turtle on land, unless it is in danger (ex. crossing a road), please do not pick it up or move it, as it is probably a female on her way to or from a nesting site. If you do see a nesting turtle, or see turtles within Regina and Saskatchewan we would love to hear about it; especially if it is one that has a number on its back! Please send us an email (turtles@royalsaskmuseum.ca) and let us know where you saw it (GPS coordinates, or nearest significant landmark), when you saw it (date and time of day), what it was doing (ex. basking, moving across land, swimming), and if possible a picture. All sightings that are submitted will be included in our data collection and it could possibly lead to learning about new habitat that the western painted turtles use in Regina. Citizen science would not be possible without your help!

However, a word of caution. Please do not try and catch the turtles, especially the ones with transmitters on their shells. These are wild animals that do carry diseases and can have a mean bite and/or scratch if handled incorrectly, even by well-trained individuals. We are also trying to learn and understand the most natural movements of these Western Painted Turtles, so the more people disturb them, the less we may learn from this project. Observing and taking pictures of this wonderful species found in Regina’s backyard is absolutely fine. Also, if you see us working in the marsh, please feel free to come up and ask if we have a turtle that you can see up close or simply ask us questions about the project. We’d love to talk to you and I know I love telling people about turtles!

Alyssa and Kelsey hold a turtle

Me, Kelsey (holding the turtle) and my field technician, Alyssa. You will be seeing us regularly canoeing within the Wascana area searching for western painted turtles over the course of the summer.

If you would like to learn more about the project and about Western Painted Turtles, feel free to follow this blog for updates throughout the summer or if you are on social media, or follow #WascanaTurtles. Additionally, on Saturday, May 30 I will be at the Wings over Wascana Festival to answer any questions and talk with the public. At 2:30 pm I will be leading a talk as part of the Saskatchewan Prairie Conservation Action Plan Speaker Series, where you can learn more about the project I will be completing the next two years. So please come on out and learn about all the wildlife that you can find right here in Regina!