While they may not garner the same hype as the Caiman discovered in Toronto’s High Park this week, there is an indigenous reptile found within London, Ontario that is worth searching for. With their long snorkel-like noses and soft leathery shells, the Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle is a unique looking creature. These turtles are classed as threatened under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act and the Species at Risk Act, but thanks in large part to the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority, their numbers are increasing.
Habitat loss is one of the biggest threats to Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle’s as well as other native turtles. This can be caused by shoreline development, stabilization and changes in water levels. Lower water levels resulting from the Springbank Dam not being in operation has improved their habitat.
If seeing one of these turtles is on your bucket list, they can be viewed from the banks of the Thames River throughout the city. By scanning the the river, paying attention to exposed rocks and logs will reveal these turtles basking in the summer sun. Softshell turtles in the Thames River range in size from only a few centimeters to much larger specimens exceeding 40 centimeters.
Turtles are less visible during high water times because many of the rocks and logs they bask on become submerged. For this reason, success will be much greater if you avoid searching for softshells after heavy rains.
Remember that these turtles are protected and cannot be harmed or harassed in any way. Stay on the trails adjacent to the river as these and other turtles nest on the sandy banks of the river, and walking on them can damage the nests. Poachers often raid the eggs from nests for either the pet or food trade. It is illegal to buy, sell, or possess protected species and any illegal activity regarding these or other plant or animal species should be reported to the Ministry of Natural Resources at 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).