Baby snapping turtles rescued from Etobicoke backyard and pool
Markland Wood family discovers several dozen turtles, transports them to Etobicoke Creek
Turtles may be slow, but they love the water.
A bale of baby common snapping turtles thought they’d found their new home – in a Markland Wood family’s backyard pool.
Not five. Not 10. Not 20. But 37 at last count.
Michelle Griffin discovered the first of the tiny two-inch-long brown-black reptiles with the “funky, long tail” while skimming her pool Tuesday afternoon.
““Oh, that looks kind of different,’ I thought,” Griffin recalled. “We get the odd creature. ‘Oh my gosh, if it’s a mouse, I’m not pulling it out,’ I thought. Then I noticed it was walking. I called my husband and kids. It was a turtle.”
Kids Isabella, 11, and Ava, 9, put the tiny snapper in a dish.
Fifteen minutes later, Griffin found another turtle swimming on the top of the pool, and two more walking on the pool’s bottom. Another poked its head out of a plant.
“The turtles seem to gravitate to the pool. It’s almost like they have a sense (to go to water). It’s quite interesting,” Griffin said.
She called out to her turtle recovery squad.
Dad Mike found the turtle nest in the backyard. The small hole was the size of a toonie and from it emerged even more baby snappers.
“When we counted 15, we thought that must be it,” said Griffin. “But they just kept coming. We were shocked.”
Isabella and Ava quickly got to work corralling the newly born slowpokes.
“Some took a long, long time coming out of the nest, and others came out fast,” Isabella said. “We collected them in a box with rocks and water. When they came out, we didn’t want them to go to the river because they’d have to cross the golf course. We thought some animal might eat them.”
Ava described the turtles as “kind of tickly from its nails when it crawled up you.”
The baby turtles clambered from their nest caked in dirt. Only their eyes were visible. The girls transported each turtle to a container of water. But it only got more and more dirty.
Friends Angelica Raviele, 11 and Celia Gatto, 13, ran over as news of the Griffins’ turtle adventure spread.
Soon, the girls had devised a turtle washing station using three lasagna-sized aluminum trays.
By bedtime Tuesday night, the girls had scooped up, washed and housed 27 turtles in a large Rubbermaid container of rocks and water covered by a surfboard float from their pool.
More turtles emerged on Wednesday. Late yesterday afternoon, there was still movement in the nest.
Griffin wondered if the female will return to her nesting site in their yard to lay her next clutch of eggs.
It is possible, said Lee Parker, facility manager with Vaughan-based Reptilia, Canada’s largest indoor reptile zoo. Reptilia has nearly 500 animals in 52 exhibits in its 25,000-square-foot facility.
“The mom may come back. They often have multiple nesting sites,” he said, noting females are 17 to 19 years old when they breed.
A single clutch is usually 40 to 50 eggs, but can be as large as 80, he added.
Parker captured the 75-centimetre-long cayman, a reptile similar to an alligator, sunning itself in High Park’s West Pond a year ago.
Common snapping turtles live approximately 30 years and can weigh as much as 60 pounds.
“They spend most of their life in the water. They’re rarely seen on land,” Parker said. “We get a lot of calls about them. People found snapping turtle eggs on Centre Island on a two-lane road. They wanted to move them. But we encourage people to leave them where they are.”
Typically, not all baby snapping turtles survive. Some will become the prey of raccoons or coyotes, Parker said.
The girls’ save of the snappers impressed Parker.
“It’s a great story,” he said. “This family is conservation-oriented and want to help get the turtles back to the creek.”
Reptilia acquired all three of its snapping turtles from the Ministry of Natural Resources after ministry staff confiscated them.
It is illegal to keep snapping turtles, Parker said.
“A lot of the turtles we have, people kept them at their cottage. They got tired of them. Then they found someone down the road to take them. Then it gets confiscated,” he said.
Many confiscated turtles face a life of captivity, he added.
“Many times, people who had it also had lizards. The turtle ends up being stuck in captivity for the rest of their life. Because of possible disease from the other reptiles, it can’t be released.”
But the Griffins’ turtles will live in their natural habitat.
Last night, the Griffin family and some friends sent the infant turtles off on their next adventure.
Toting the turtles in Rubbermaid containers, they crossed Markland Wood Golf Course after the sun set on golfers’ games for the day. Then they released them “as a family” into Etobicoke Creek.
Michelle said she suspects the girls won’t struggle with their “What I Did This Summer” school essays when classes start on Tuesday.
“Everyone will forget their European vacation. It will be all about the turtles that emerged,” she laughed.
It was for Isabella.
“I’m going to say the best part of my summer was when we found the turtles in my backyard,” she said. “I think we have the best backyard to play in — with a pool, toys — and turtles.”