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Colourful Sunbathers: Petrie Island’s Turtles

We have a 9-minute slide show highlighting the turtles of Petrie Island.  Please visit our slide show page.

Turtles at Petrie

Unique, even a bit strange, these reptiles hold a special fascination. They have skin like lizards, beaks instead of teeth, and their shell is actually formed by their ribs. They are also among the oldest reptiles, going back 200 million years to before the age of dinosaurs. They are true survivors.

Petrie island is home to the common Painted Turtle (Chrysemis picta), as well as Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina) and Map Turtles (Graptemys geographica), both of the latter appearing on Ontario's Species at Risk list as "of special concern". One Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus), a threatened species, was also found at the Island in 2008.


Painted Turtles

  • The painted turtle is certainly the most visible of Petrie’s aquatic denizens. It is the most common turtle in North America
  • Named for colorful markings on carapace and plastron (shell and belly)
  • Reaches adult size, about 25 cm, after 6 to 8 years Females larger than males
  • Prefers ponds, lakes and streams, often found among lily pads and pickerel weed
  • May live up to 40 years
  • Spends winter under the mud at the bottom of the ponds
  • From late spring to midsummer, on Petrie Island, the females move up to sandy spots where they dig their nests and lay their eggs. Between 5 and 12 eggs (up to 25) are laid, usually in several nests
  • Baby turtles hatch in the fall, or overwinter if it’s too cold
  • When the soil reaches the right temperature, hatchlings dig themselves out and scurry to the water
  • Few hatchlings make it to adult size; gulls, crows, racoons, dogs and other animals dig up the nests and people sometimes trample them – never molest, pick up or handle one of the turtles
  • Painted turtles eat aquatic insects, their larvae and other invertebrates such as worms; they are fond of snails and vary their diet with small pieces of lily pads

NOTE - There are dozens of nests in the sand along the various trails, in particular the Bill Holland Trail. They are chiefly nests of snapping turtles. Please be careful when walking.

For more info, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources

And the Ontario conservation group Turtle SHELL –

Page updated 2015-01-17    © Friends of Petrie Island