Conservation in Action: Helping the smallest turtle in Québec!


Conservation in Action: Helping the smallest turtle in Québec!

­­For over 27 years now, the Ecomuseum Zoo has focused much of its efforts in research and conservation for Québec’s reptiles and amphibians. These lesser-known animals are in great need of help, and our experts are working diligently to protect them through various projects involving different species. During the month of August, discover what they're working on right now and see what you could do to contribute to their efforts.

Where do Musk Turtles hide?

Just as the Eastern Spiny Softshell and Blanding's Turtles, the Musk Turtle, also known as the Stinkpot Turtle, is one of Québec’s endangered species. In practice, this means that the species is threatened with extinction and therefore, it is very rare in the province.

In March of 2015 the Ecomuseum Zoo was granted crucial support by its partners in order to undertake an important conservation project for this small reptile. During the month of May, the zoo’s team was able to perform an inventory of the Musk Turtle in a place where it just has been discovered: Lac Saint-François.

One might believe that an inventory of this nature  would be a simple thing to do: it implies the estimation of population size in a specific location, the evaluation of population reach in a given area, the detection of which habitats the population favors and of course the assessment of population health (are the turtles fairing well?). Analyzed in its entirety this information will allow us to determine how we can best protect this endangered species.

In reality, the Musk Turtle is small and stealthy. The species is quite adept at hiding as it very rarely exits the water.  Unlike the Common Map Turtle that will raise its core temperature by basking in the sun in the open air on a rock or log, the Musk Turtle will increase its body temperature by remaining under water and hiding beneath floating vegetation. Just as active at night, colored either brown or grey and often covered in algae, the Musk Turtle blends in perfectly with its surroundings. In Québec, its preferred habitats are shallow bays of large bodies of water where the bottom remains murky and where floating aquatic vegetation, both submerged and emerging, is abundant. Great challenges for our Research and Conservation team!

Our experts are seasoned veterans and they traveled the banks and bays of Lac St-François day and night, looking for individuals of this species. Once found, the turtles are measured, their health status is checked, and we record distinguishing marks to correctly differentiate individuals thereby ensuring we don’t count turtles twice.

What now?

As a result of the tireless work of our experienced team, we are pleased to confirm the presence of a second population of Musk Turtles in Québec. Considering the rarity of this species and the challenges encountered in its observation, this is excellent news.

Inventory results have been tabulated, but there’s still work to be done. What are the best solutions to protect the Musk Turtle? Our team begins now the composition and analysis  stages. An intervention plan will be drawn to clearly designate the priority areas where actions must be undertaken to better protect the habitat of the Must Turtle in Lac St-François.

The project’s ultimate goal is simple: to ensure that local citizens make use of the territory in ways that harmonize with the maintenance of healthy aquatic and shoreline habitats. This will ensure that the Musk Turtles and other species that live in the same environment, can continue to thrive for years to come.  Notably such other species as the Northern Pike, the Yellow Perch, the Large-Mouth Bass, herons, ducks, muskrats and numerous other species from the area.

Conclusion? Protecting the habitat of one species is always profitable for the whole area’s biodiversity. Small steps can make a big difference!

Thank you to our partners!

This project was achieved thanks to the financial support of the Programme d’interactions communautaires (Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement, et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques) and the Fondation de la Faune du Québec. 

A special thank you to the Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs and to Environnement Canada for their support in resources and material.