A Soft Spot for the Spiny Softshell Turtle
With only two subpopulations in Canada, habitat for the spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera) is crucial to its survival. However, this reptile has a long must-have list before it moves into its habitat and human impacts can leave it homeless. As it stands, the spiny softshell turtle has been listed as threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) since 1991.
The Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Endangered Species Program is giving $20,000 to Patrick Paré, a biologist and Director of Education, Research and Environment at the Granby Zoo to locate, monitor and protect the nesting sites of the spiny softshell turtle.
Prime Real Estate
While the square footage might seem endless, these turtles have a check-list that their new home must fulfill before they commit to a location. Their home sweet home will have a sand or gravel area for nesting that’s close to the water and free of vegetation, shallow sandy areas to bury in, deep pools (one metre deep at the very least) to hibernate in and areas to bask in the sun. Of course their habitat also needs to be welcoming for their favourite prey—crayfish, tadpoles, minnows and aquatic insects.
But with a laundry list of must-haves comes a laundry list of roadblocks. Urban and agricultural development along shorelines and bank stabilization can restrict the turtle’s ability to move from basking hotspots to nesting nooks or deep pools to sandy spots. With limited access, turtles would be forced to migrate long distances every day, and eventually the habitat is rendered useless and they’re forced to move.
Since spiny softshell turtles have a hard time locating the perfect spot to create their home and nesting area, they often have to lay their eggs in the same area. Once the locale has been decided upon, usually on sandy beaches, they lay approximately 20 eggs a clutch. However, beaches also happen to be sought after for recreation, and since this turtle can be easily disrupted, this can put a damper on nesting. The eggs have also got other glitches to contend with, including egg infertility, fluctuating water levels, sewage and predators like raccoons, foxes and sarcophagid flies.
Where Paré’s Research Fits In
Quebec’s spiny softshell turtle populations are located in two areas: Lake Champlain and Pike River. Patrick Paré of the Granby Zoo is targeting the Pike River population in order to assess and monitor the health of this population. In April, May and June, Paré and his research team will capture two females en route to Pike River in order to install transmitters to track the females as they scout out nesting spots. From June to October, the team will locate the nesting areas and protect them from predators with wire netting. They’ll also visit the sites frequently to check on flooding, predation and vegetation growth in the area. In the fall, researchers will visit the nesting sites again to determine the ratio of hatched to undeveloped eggs.