Turtles in the Pond

Turtles are one of the pond delights. There are a wide variety of these amphibians depending on where you live. Here in Eastern Canada, my region supports 5 separate species ranging from the large snapping turtle to a small painted turtle.

What Do They Eat?

In general, this animal is a scavenger. They tend to eat things that are slower than they are (which means it has to either be half dead or not moving very darn fast). For example, the Eastern Painted Turtle (one of the more common turtles in Eastern North America) will eat decaying plants, anything smaller than itself that it can catch such as earthworms or beetles. This is the turtle you most often see sunning itself on a log if you go out to a wild pond. As it only gets to 10 inches (approx) when mature, this is a welcome garden guest.

Snapping Turtle

The Snapping Turtle is the one that most folks have a concern around but generally speaking, if you leave it alone - it is going to leave you alone.

Again, the snapper is a scavenger eating anything it can catch including smaller turtles and frogs. It will grow upwards of 18 inches across so it can be a pretty fearsome looking creature with its jagged shell and spiked tail.

You do want to keep stupid pets away from adult snapping turtles (like my old lab that thought they were great sport) because this turtle has a powerful jaw that will do severe damage to a small dog leg. Unless you corner this turtle, it will ignore you but if cornered, it will (like most wildlife) defend itself.

Turtle Problems

The only problem that turtles really bring to the garden (other than eating the odd goldfish that they can catch) is their egg laying in the spring. These are mini-bulldozers and will and can dig up a pretty sizeable hole in a few minutes in a gravelly soil to lay a clutch of eggs. Now some of you might think this is cute and some might get pretty upset at having your perennials torn up. The female does fill the hole back in to protect those eggs from predators so she does her best to repair the garden damage. :-)

Encouraging Turtles

If you want to encourage turtles, lay a thick branch out of the pond so the turtle can crawl in and out of the water. You can make it look like a natural tree fell into the pond if you’re clever about it. The turtle will use this as a highway in and out of the pond.

Cleaning Ponds with Resident Turtles

And if you do have a resident turtle population, do NOT clean out your pond in the fall as the painted turtles (and many others) hibernate in the debris at the bottom of the pond. Some rarer turtles actually burrow two to three feet down into the mud to hibernate while small baby turtles can hibernate in their hatchling nest.

Overwintering Turtles

Do not overwinter turtles in ponds indoors. They do not do very well this way as their shells require sunlight to stay hard. They do much better outdoors where they belong.

Eliminating Turtles

And if you want to get rid of a turtle, it is necessary to catch it and move it to a nearby swamp. There is no easy way to do this other than by grabbing it (stay out of the way of the jaws of a snapper) and do understand that a slow moving turtle on land is a different critter once it hits the water. Good luck. (personally, I’d just let the turtle alone and claim its presence as a victory for the wonder of your pond).

Click here to ask about the turtles in your pond


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