LOVE BUGS!

A CWF conservation expert tells us why insects might be our best ecological allies… and why we must act now to prevent a collapse of the world’s bugs.

The Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes is one of the five largest collections of its kind in the world.

Established in 1886 by James Fletcher, the first official Dominion entomologist, it now contains more than 17 million specimens. Although more than 70 per cent of them originate in Canada, the collection also includes exemplars from all over the world. Many samples are the only known representatives of their species. You might think that a collection such as this would be housed in a special facility designed to preserve the specimens in perpetuity.

Think again. One of the largest and most important insect collections in the world is divided among some 1,500 metal cabinets, many scattered in the hallways of a building on the federal government’s Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa.

As expansive as this database has become, it may be in the process of becoming even more important. That’s because many of the species in the archive are declining at an alarming rate. Studies from around the world are confirming entomologists’ worst fears.

Without insects, most of the foods we eat, including fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and seeds, would disappear or be very limited. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations estimates more than three-quarters of the world’s food crops (equalling $577 billion annually) rely on pollination, primarily by insects.

Not just human food is at risk: insects are also the backbone of terrestrial and aquatic food webs. Many species of fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals rely exclusively on insects. Without them, these species would cease to exist, and the predators that rely on these animals for food would starve. Loss of insects would be a grand disruptor to food chains globally. Scientists are already documenting steep declines in some species that rely on insect prey, notably many species of birds.

Moving on to medicines, roughly 7,000 medical compounds prescribed by western doctors are derived from plants. For everything from simple headaches to malaria, plant-derived medicines have provided modern society with a variety of cures and symptom relief, and most of these plants are pollinated by insects.

Insects are also all-star recyclers. They play a vital role in decomposing dead plants and animals and recycling the nutrients into the soil, as well as in aerating the soil as they burrow. Losing insects would thoroughly disrupt agriculture because plants would lack nutrients necessary for growth. Also, the accumulation of dead plants and animals in the environment would cause a putrefied mess.

Insects are vital to ecosystem function and to our very existence, and yet the evidence seems incontrovertible that they are declining. Consider three recent studies. In 2017, a German entomological society found that the overall mass of flying insects in 63 German nature reserves had decreased by 75 per cent over the last three decades. Known as the Krefeld study, researchers found declines in every habitat sampled and concluded that intensive agriculture, with its pesticides, herbicides and simplification of the landscape, was the principal factor in the decline.

CANADIANS NEED TO FOCUS ON REVERSING DECLINES BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE. ALL GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENTS RELEVANT TO THE ISSUE MUST COLLABORATE ON A SOLUTION

A second longitudinal study out of the Caribbean is even more concerning. Published in late 2018 and drawing on data collected in the Luquillo rainforest of Puerto Rico back in the 1970s and 40 years later in the early 2010s, U.S. tropical ecologist Brad Lister revealed a 10- to 60-fold decrease in insect biomass over the four decades. This astounding result is even more troubling considering that the study area is not directly affected by pesticides, herbicides or habitat loss. The data points to climate change: average temperatures in the forest have risen by 2 degrees C since the 1970s.

The third study, published in April this year in the journal Biological Conservation, is a global review of four decades of insect studies by a pair of Australian entomologists. This survey of 73 different studies revealed insect declines on average of 41 per cent and a drop in the total mass of insects of 2.5 per cent a year. The authors calculated the rate of insect species extinction as eight times faster than that of vertebrates. The research identified habitat loss, pesticides, fertilizers, introduced species and disease, and climate change as the primary factors in the decline.

Here in Canada, there are no comparable studies: the focus among entomologists has been on identifying insect species. Still, informal anecdotal evidence suggests a downward trend in the quantity of insects they have collected over the past decades. Environment and Climate Change Canada has a role in listing all species at risk, but this is often a case of too little too late.

Canadians need to focus on reversing declines before it is too late. All government departments relevant to the issue must collaborate on a solution: Environment and Climate Change Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Health Canada, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Transport Canada and their provincial counterparts all need to support the health of our insect populations. It is time for creative approach-es to stem the decline, such as integrating insect habitats into the design of buildings, roads, power transmission corridors, rail- roads and farms. It is also time to establish a monitoring framework for flying and aquatic insects across Canada.

What can you do to help? Support CWF’s five-step neonic Ban With a Plan (banwithaplan.org). Avoid using harmful pesticides or herbicides in your garden or lawn, plant a pollinator-friendly garden, lobby your elected representatives on the issue, and buy from local food producers who do not use harmful chemicals and who support wildlife habitats on their land. Finally, spread the word through your network of family, friends and colleagues — encourage others to take action. Every bit helps.

 


Reprinted from Canadian Wildlife magazine. Get more information or subscribe now! Now on newsstands! Or, get your digital edition today!

Five Ways Nature Can Boost Your Health and Happiness

Nature is one of the best healers around when it comes to mental and physical health.

And it takes only 20 minutes outdoors to reap its benefits. Here are five scientifically-proven reasons why you need to head outdoors today and every day.

1. It’ll improve your mental health

monarch womanBeing in and around nature lowers the heart rate and creates a sense of inner peace and happiness. According to researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, it takes only 20 minutes outdoors to reap the benefits of feeling happier. In the study, 64 per cent of the 94 participants showed an increase in life satisfaction after 20 minutes in a park.

2. It’ll boost your physical health too

biking sunrise

Give your immune system a little boost by spending some time outdoors, from getting your daily vitamin D dose to exposure to a variety of bacteria from grass dust and dirt. Vitamin D is particularly helpful to keep our muscles, bones and teeth healthy.

3. It’ll help you tackle stress

woman outside stress free

Feeling tired, stressed or stuck? Take a break and head outside! Being outdoors is proven to lower concentrations of cortisol, pulse rate, blood pressure and sympathetic nerve activity. It is shown that being outdoors gives a creativity boost to tackle whatever problem you’ve been dealing with in your life.

4. It’ll restore you and give you an energy boost

senior couple hiking

Let’s face it, the reality is that humans spend a lot of time indoors on social media and computers. Spending time outdoors increases both physical and mental energy and feel more alive in as little as 20 minutes.

5. It could help you sleep better

woman outside sleep grass

We could all use a little extra zzzzs! A 2015 study published in Preventive Medicine found that those of 255,000 adults who have access to natural spaces slept better! So head out outside for 20 minutes of fresh air and walk your way to a better snooze tonight.

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything.”
– Albert Einstein


There are many, many more reasons we should all be spending more time outdoors. Nature teaches us to become quieter and slow down our pace of living. It teaches us to really listen and truly feel like we are one with the earth. It teaches us to live in the moment – to enjoy the small things in life like watching the pace of nature and listening to the birds, hearing the trees sway and creek along with the wind.

The truth is nature teaches us far more than what we’ll ever be able to learn from a book.

How does being outside in nature make you feel? Let us know!

Raise Your Voice and Get the American Eel Listed by SARA

American Eels are pretty impressive creatures.

They swim 5,000 kilometres from Ontario waters to the Sargasso Sea near Bermuda to spawn. Then their offspring make the long journey back.

american eel migration map @ CWF

Considering they’ve got such a long trek, you’d think making the journey itself and the sheer energy they’d exhaust making it would be the hardest part for these eels.

Unfortunately, it’s really not.

They face so many threats along the way, like facing barriers such as dams and turbines that can kill adults as they return to sea. They’re having such a hard time that they’ve declined by more than 99 per cent in Ontario.

It’s Not Looking Good for the Eels

american eel @ sean landsman

That’s why it’s more important than ever that they become listed. They’re already considered Threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, but they still haven’t been listed under the Species at Risk Act. Getting listed would make such a big impact for the American Eel. It would protect the species. And they certainly need our protection!

The good news? The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is in the final stages of developing listing advice to Cabinet on whether or not to add the American Eel to the Species at Risk Act. The bad news? They’ve been reviewing it for over three years and still haven’t delivered their final listing decision.

We Need Action if We Are Going to Save the American Eel!

This Rivers to Oceans Week, we want to help the migratory species that need it the most.

Will you send an email to government urging them to list the American Eel in the Species at Risk Act?

Continue reading “Raise Your Voice and Get the American Eel Listed by SARA”

Here Are the Most Dangerous Roads in Eastern Ontario

Turtles and roads are a dangerous combination.

When turtles leave their wetlands on an overland trek, they often have to cross a road to get where they are going. Their destination may simply be the wetland across the road, or a nesting site for an adult female to lay her eggs. Whatever the reason for setting out, the result is often a dead turtle on the road.

Turtles are slow, which increases their risk of being hit by a car or truck as they cross a road. In addition, a turtle’s reaction to danger is often to pull in their head and legs and remain immobile. Unfortunately, remaining immobile on a busy road turns a turtle into a sitting duck.

Road Survey Results

Excavating a nest | Marquage des œufs de tortues serpentines.

Over the past two years, the CWF turtle team has been conducting road surveys in the greater Ottawa area to find out where turtles are getting hit on the roads.

Tragically, we have found more than 1,000 dead turtles on roads.

That is a staggering amount of roadkill that is likely not sustainable in the long term. We are working hard to get wildlife fencing installed at two of the locations where we found the most turtles on roads near Ottawa.

We found more turtles on some roads than others. A lot of things affect how many turtles are found on a given road, such as the length of the road, the traffic volume, how many wetlands are nearby, and how often the road is surveyed.

Turtles can be on the move from May to September but much of the movement occurs in June when adult females are looking for nesting locations. It is always a good idea to be alert for turtles when driving in the spring and summer.

If you can slow down when approaching wetlands this can increase the odds of seeing a turtle on the road before it is too late. And while it is good to be watching for turtles on any rural road, we can now say which roads in the Ottawa area cause the most mortality for turtles.

So if you are driving near Ottawa this spring and summer, be extra careful on the following roads:

Hot Roads Do you regularly drive one of Eastern Ontario's 'hot roads?' This map is a compilation of CWF's 2018 data on turtle strikes.
Hot Roads: Do you regularly drive one of Eastern Ontario’s ‘hot roads?’ This map is a compilation of CWF’s 2018 data on turtle strikes.
  • #7 (west of Carleton Place)
  • #10 (southwest of Perth)
  • #15 (south of Carleton Place)
  • Dwyer Hill Rd (western Ottawa)
  • Roger Stevens Drive (southern Ottawa)
  • Wolf Grove Rd (west of Almonte)

(These roads are ordered alphabetically. We have not attempted to rank these roads by the number of turtles as not all roads were surveyed the same amount.)

Not surprisingly these are all relatively long and busy roads. Various other shorter roads also had a number of dead turtles, just not as many as these roads. It is a dangerous place out there for turtles. Please watch for them as they try to cross our roads.

If you want to find out more about what you can do for turtles, please check out our website, HelptheTurtles.ca.

New Thinking Needed to Conserve Canada’s Wildlife and Ecosystems

By Mike Wilson and John Lounds

Despite the abundant wildlife and ecosystems in Canada’s North, nature is facing an alarming decline in southern Canada.

Habitat loss and fragmentation have resulted in significant loss of wildlife, leading to declines in many species that were once common, such as the Greater sage-grouse and the American bumblebee. Current approaches won’t be sufficient to ensure that humans and wildlife can thrive on a shared planet.

In recent years, we’ve seen a bold new vision for the coexistence and flourishing of humans and wildlife on Earth. A growing movement of scientists, conservationists, policymakers and business leaders are calling for governments to set aside 30 per cent of their land and waters by 2030, with the long-term goal of achieving sustainable land management and nature conservation across all our landscapes and seascapes. Traditional approaches to conservation are essential in achieving this vision, but without new thinking they are not enough to meet these goals and solve the towering challenges before us.

The threats facing our wildlife and ecosystems are staggering.

A Global Assessment Report released earlier this month by the UN Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services estimated that one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction. And despite the abundant wildlife and ecosystems in Canada’s North, nature is facing an alarming decline in southern Canada. Habitat loss and fragmentation have resulted in significant loss of wildlife, leading to declines in many species that were once common, such as the Greater sage-grouse and the American bumblebee.

@ Viv Lynch

Canada and other countries are attempting to turn these trends around. Nations signed on to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets in 2010, under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Canada and other signatories committed to protect at least seventeen percent of their terrestrial areas and inland waters, and 10 percent of their marine and coastal areas by 2020.

We have seen inspiring efforts to make good on this pledge. Recently, the Government of Canada hosted the Nature Summit, a global gathering of leaders from governments, Indigenous nations, business and civil society to set an ambitious, post-2020 agenda for conservation. The summit saw a raft of new announcements for nature protection in Canada, such as formally protecting the Laurentian Whale Passage and establishing strict new standards for marine protected areas. This is in addition to the historic $1.3-billion investment in nature conservation initiatives that the 2018 budget committed to over five years.

A Shift in Thinking is Needed To Meet Our Goals

While we are getting closer to meeting our 2020 Aichi targets, this is just the beginning to achieving a sustainable society, and more ambitious action and results are needed. To meet the bold 30 per cent by 2030 targets proposed by scientists, we need to kick-start a shift in thinking on nature conservation. While governments have led conservation in the past, new thinking for nature must also bring together the collective efforts of businesses, Indigenous nations, communities and civil societies to build the foundation of a sustainable future.

Ensuring that ecosystems and wildlife can thrive alongside humans, now and in the future, means that we must broaden our idea of conservation. An expanded notion of conservation encompasses stewardship and protection measures in the landscapes and seascapes where Canadians work, live and play—such as urban areas, agricultural lands, and coastal fishing economies—as well as the ecologically intact protected areas that traditionally come to mind. This ‘new thinking’ for nature conservation does not displace traditional motivations and approaches to conservation, but instead ‘grows the tent’ by showing how conservation helps address many important challenges our country is facing.

New Thinking For Nature Needs to Attract Broad Coalitions of Unlikely Allies

It will involve working with public and mental health advocates to establish urban green spaces that help reduce stress and mental illness. Collaborating with municipalities to quantify how natural infrastructure— such as wetlands and floodplains—can cost-effectively deliver essential services such as flood prevention while helping us adapt to climate change. Demonstrating to industries as diverse as insurance, tourism, retail, and natural resources that nature conservation and sustainable resource management can lower business risks and lead to new innovation and investment opportunities. Most importantly, it means fostering nation-to-nation relationships with Indigenous peoples so that they are empowered to manage wildlife and protected areas on their traditional territories.

Imagining these new approaches to nature conservation is vital to realizing a shared vision of a Canada in which people and wildlife can flourish together.

Mike Wilson is executive director of Smart Prosperity Institute. John Lounds is president & CEO of the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Rick Bates is executive vice-president and CEO of the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

Reprinted with permission from The Hill Times: 5/27/2019 New thinking needed to conserve Canada’s wildlife and ecosystemsThe Hill Times

A Passion for Canadian Bees

Bees are among the most familiar of insects, in part due to the familiar furry and robust bumble bees that are often featured in children’s stories, as characters in television programs and commercials, and used almost ubiquitously to represent all bees to the public. However, bumble bees make up less than 5% of the native bee species in Canada so there is a lot of bee diversity both in terms of the number of species and life history strategies that are not represented by these caricatures. With almost 900 bee species occurring coast to coast to coast in Canada, there is still much to learn, and much to save!

In addition to doing research on bees, I also provide information and support for the assessment of arthropod species at risk in Canada. I work as a taxonomist, identifying bee species found in Canada, finding and documenting new species found in Canada (Figure 1 and 2), and on rarer occasions, describing species that are new to science. I will always consider myself a student of bees as it seems that one can learn something new almost every day. I love exploring the world of insects (Figure 3), in particular native bees, though surprisingly I came to work on these important pollinators by a rather indirect route as my first love was botany. In fact, I still am very interested in plants, especially their reproductive biology (Figure 4).

As an undergraduate student at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, I was interested in doing an undergraduate research project in botany – plants are very wonderful organisms! Unfortunately, the botany professors at that time were on sabbatical so there were no opportunities for me in their labs at the time. However, the entomologist at Acadia had a project on lowbush blueberry, particularly its pollination and pollinators, and this changed my life. I was hooked, and these topics have been what my career has been focused on ever since.

One of the things I soon realized is that there were few entomologists in Canada that were studying the taxonomy of Canadian bees; thus I faced a bit of an uphill battle to study pollinator diversity at first, but then realized I loved doing taxonomic work on bees. Between then and now I had excellent opportunities to work with and learn from great entomologist in Nova Scotia, and later during my doctorate degree at the University of Guelph and post doctorate research at York University, both in Ontario. These last two opportunities allowed me to work directly with world-renowned pollination and bee biologists.

Now I find myself at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum where I have worked as Curator of Invertebrate Zoology since 2012, and my love of bees continues to grow. As an adjunct professor at the University of Regina, I also get to work with undergraduate and graduate students – their enthusiasm continues to make my work in Saskatchewan very rewarding. The prairies are a great place to study bees, and the museum is an excellent place to do so!

Ladies, the Heat is On!

Animals That Go Through Menopause

You’ve got the air-conditioning cranked. You’ve invested in a white noise machine to help you get a little sleep. And your patience is wearing thin in a whole new way these days. There’s nothing fun about going through menopause, but ladies, did you know we’re not the only ones in the animal kingdom that suffer through it?

To be frank, we’re an oddity. Most animals keep on popping out babies until they reach old age. However, many toothed whales work a lot more like humans do where they reproduce for a number of years and then, when those years come to an end, they’ll keep right on trucking.

Let’s take a look at some animals in the wild that go through menopause:

1. Short-finned Pilot Whales

Pilot whale mom and calf | Photo @ Clair EversThese whales can live up to 60 years. That is, if they’re female. Males usually die around the age of 45. Female Short-finned Pilot Whales reach sexual maturity when they turn about 10 years old. Once they reach that age they’ll begin to have their calves every five to eight years until they reach menopause.

2. Belugas

Beluga pod | Photo: Shafik Diwan, CWF Photo Club

Belugas are long-lived creatures. They can live up to 75 years in the wild. That’s a lot of birthday candles to blow out! Females reach sexual maturity between eight and 14 years of age. Once they do, they will go on to have calves (one at a time) about every three years, until they reach menopause.

3. Narwhals

Narwhals

Female Narwhals reach sexual maturity between eight and 12 years of age. After which, they’ll have one calf at a time. They usually give birth to a new calf every three years, although it may even be longer. Eventually, their reproductive years end and they move into menopause, living up to 50 years (although most live less than 30 years).

4. Killer Whales

killer whales | Photo: Kari Watkins, CWF Photo Club

Killer Whales don’t live quite as long as these other whale species. Males will live on average 30 years, while females can expect to live until about 50 years of age. These social marine mammals don’t give birth to their first calf until they are about 15 years old. Once their reproductive years are through, they will take care of their young’s calves. Talk about a tight knit family!

What’s the Point?

So what’s the point of going through menopause and living on into our golden years? To be honest, it’s a bit of a mystery. Some researchers argue that we can thank the grandmother hypothesis. This idea suggests that older females will opt to support their grandbabies instead of going on to bear more of their own children or young.

While this idea works for social creatures like the Killer Whale, not all whale species are as social. And also…wouldn’t species like elephants evolve to have menopause? They’re awfully social and take care of their grandchildren and yet there are no signs that they go through menopause.

There doesn’t seem to be a clear cut answer as to why menopause exists in animals yet. What do you think?

Top 10 Species Finds on iNaturalist.ca

iNaturalist.ca has reached 1 million!

iNaturalist Canada (also known as iNaturalist.ca) has hit a major milestone – more than 1 million verifiable observations in Canada. These confirmed sightings span from Canada’s East Coast to the western edges of British Columbia, and from Southern Saskatchewan all the way up to the most northern reaches of the country.

This proves that Canadians are interacting with nature using their smartphone or digital cameras to document and geo-locate wildlife in our vast country.

Canadians are also reporting some really cool discoveries.

Not only does this help provide valuable information for conservation, there are some interesting tidbits in there for all of us. Also, with iNaturalist’s auto ID feature you can hold a field identification tool in the palm of your hand.

To celebrate, let’s take a look at 10 fascinating species reported on iNaturalist Canada:

1. New Species to Canada!

Paintedhand mudbug | Photo: colindjones
Paintedhand mudbug | Photo: colindjones

The Paintedhand Mudbug. This is actually a species of crayfish, not a bug at all. Thanks to some hard work by Colin Jones from the Ontario Natural Heritage Information Centre the first ever occurrence of this species was recorded in Canada using iNaturalist.ca.

2. Carnivorous Plants

Purple Pitcher Plant and the Great Sundew. These carnivorous plants are not species from an exotic corner of the world. In fact they are entirely native to Canada and you can find one or both of these in every province and territory. Don’t be alarmed, they only feed on small insects!

3. The Monarch Butterfly

Monarch | Photo james_cwf
Monarch | Photo james_cwf

The Monarch Butterfly is the most reported species at risk on iNaturalist.ca with more than 4,400 observations! Only the Mallard, Canada Goose and Grey Squirrel were reported more times than this at-risk butterfly.

4. The Spiny Softshell Turtle

Spiny Softshell Turtle | Photo Samuel Brinker
Spiny Softshell Turtle | Photo Samuel Brinker

This freshwater turtle is also probably one of Canada’s most unique. Found in only a handful of places in the country, its shell is flexible and leathery, as its name suggests, as opposed to the typical hard shell of most turtles.

5. The Fjaeldmark Dwarf Weaver

This arachnid is the most northern record of all the observations in the global iNaturalist system! It was recorded on a tiny island off the northern tip of Ellesmere Island – that’s over 2,100 kilometres north of Iqaluit!

6. Giant Hogweed

Giant Hogweed | Photo cchapman
Giant Hogweed | Photo cchapman

Possibly the tallest herbaceous (non-woody) plant to be found in Canada, the Giant Hogweed grows up to 5.5 metres (that’s 18 feet)! But it’s not from Canada, thus an invasive species. It is also highly poisonous. Getting the sap on your skin can cause burns, kind of like poison ivy but much worse.

7. The Wood Duck

Wood Duck | Photo jaliya
Wood Duck | Photo jaliya

This dabbler is one of the most colourful birds we have in Canada. It can be found in every province, as well as in Nunavut.

8. The Cougar

Cougar | Photo by kokanee
Cougar | Photo by kokanee

Also known as the North American Mountain Lion, this feline is one of the more elusive animals in Canada and getting a photo at a safe distance can be tricky! A trail camera managed to snap a unique close-up of this feline.

9. The Magnificent Bryozoan

Bryozoan | Photo alisonforde
Bryozoan | Photo alisonforde

This is not algae. A colony of organisms — called zoids — forms a solid mass called a bryozoan. This one was found during the 2017 Stanley Park Bioblitz (as part BioBlitz Canada 150) and made headlines as “The Blob of Lost Lagoon.” There are only 34 of these recorded in iNaturalist.ca.

10. Ochre Sea Star

Ochre Sea Star | Photo imcote
Ochre Sea Star | Photo imcote

This heap of sea stars was recorded on the ocean floor off the western coast of Vancouver Island. iNaturalist.ca can be used anywhere — even under water!

Think of it as social media meets conservation science.

iNaturalist.ca is a place where users can upload sightings of what they’ve seen in nature. The community can then comment on the find and help with identifying the species. This adds to the growing database throughout the country to provide a clearer picture of Canada’s biodiversity. The information can then be used for conservation purposes, such as keeping track of endangered species.

Once you have the free app and an account, snap a photo of what you see in nature and upload. The built-in auto ID can recognize most species. The app works entirely offline, but you’ll need a data plan or wifi to upload any observations you’ve logged in the app. If you don’t have a smartphone, you can upload straight to iNaturalist.ca on your desktop computer (the image recognition works there too).

iNaturalist Canada is a member of the iNaturalist Network, a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and National Geographic Society, which means that this information feeds into an initiative to track biodiversity worldwide.

What do you think is the most interesting observation on iNaturalist Canada? Head to iNaturalist.ca to check out what people are recording and then paste a link to the observation’s url in the comment section below!

Why Did the Turtle Cross the Road?

To get to the wetland on the other side.

It is spring and turtles are active, often moving from one wetland to another. Or females are looking for a place to lay their eggs. These movements often mean turtles must cross roads to get where they want to go.

Over the past two years, the Canadian Wildlife Federation turtle team has found over 1,000 dead turtles on roads in eastern Ontario. That is a staggering amount of mortality. We know that road mortality is a serious threat to turtles and we are working on getting wildlife fencing installed at some of the worst spots to keep turtles off the road.

What Can I Do?

In the mean time, we can all do our part by watching for turtles on roads, particularly when we are driving in rural areas close to lakes and wetlands. The CWF turtle team has rescued over 100 turtles from roads over the past two years. You can help too.

First of all, if you see a turtle trying to cross the road, make sure it is safe to help. If the traffic isn’t too heavy and it is safe to do so, pull off onto the road shoulder and turn on the car’s four-way flashers. Look both ways before heading onto the road to save the turtle. If there are cars coming, don’t risk your life.

With the exception of Snapping Turtles it is fairly easy to pick up most turtles. Use both hands and grab the turtle on either side of the shell. The turtle may not appreciate or understand that it is being rescued from the road and may scratch or pee on you, so be prepared for this. If you have a firm grip on the turtle with both hands you are less likely to drop it if it does scratch you. It’s a good idea to keep a pair of work gloves in the car to protect your hands when moving turtles, and for other roadside adventures.

Always move the turtle in the direction that it is heading. Turtles know where they want to go. Release the turtle on the shoulder of the road and it will likely quickly shuffle away from you and the road. Take a bow, as you just saved a turtle.

Moving Snapping Turtles, especially large ones, is more challenging. Snapping Turtles can be fast and they can bite. They can also spin around quickly or even lunge. Do not grab the sides of the shell of a Snapping Turtle as the head may whip around and bite you.

One option to move a Snapping Turtle is the car mat drag. Place a car mat behind the turtle, grab the back of the shell near the back legs and drag the turtle onto the mat. Do not drag the turtle by its tail as this can injure the turtle. Once the turtle is on the mat, drag the mat off the road, keeping one hand on the back of the turtle.

Another technique for moving a Snapping Turtle is the shovel lift. If you have a shovel in the car, approach the turtle from behind and slide the shovel under it. Then lift and move the Snapping Turtle off the road. Don’t lift the shovel too far above the road as the turtle may try to move and fall off the shovel.

To see how to safely pick up a Snapping Turtle by hand, check out our video on how to move a turtle off the road.

To learn more how you can help turtles, visit HelpTheTurtles.ca

On Point

A few barbed comments about the amazing porcupine and what we might learn from studying its quills

Surely, when the choice of our national animal was made, the beaver just edged out the porcupine. Yes, the fur trade was built on beavers, and yes, they are a huge environmental asset, and yes, neither can be said of porcupines. But the porcupine has one of the most technologically advanced defence systems in the natural world, and that should have counted for something.

porcupine crossing road © Donna Dolby

Porcupines are the world’s third largest rodent, after the beaver and the capybara. There are species scattered around the world, but the several sub-species in North America are unique because they have barbed quills. Thirty thousand of them. You’d think the barbs would make them very hard to pull out — and you’d be right: as you tug on a quill to remove it from you (or your dog!), the barbs, which are usually flat against the shaft of the quill, open up and spread out horizontally into the flesh, a little like opening an umbrella. The harder you pull, the more they spread out, in effect making the quill thicker and wider than the puncture hole it made in the first place.

Although the impact of a muzzle-full of quills is the point, the quills don’t stop there. Once embedded in the skin or muscle of an attacker, they continue to penetrate and have been found in just about any organ of any porcupine predator: stomach wall, liver, lungs and kidneys. Such quills sound like the perfect defence mechanism, but it’s the details that fascinate.

For one thing, how does the porcupine disengage from an enemy it has just plastered with quills if the barbs’ structure makes quills difficult to extract? After all, the quills are attached to the porcupine too. It’s a serious issue, because if enough quills are embedded in an enemy, the force required to pull away from them may exceed the weight of the porcupine. But evolution, having undoubtedly sacrificed many porcupines in the course of working this out, has the solution. When the animal smacks its target, the initial impact actually drives the quills back deeper into the porcupine, breaking the links in which the quill is seated. Then separation is easy.

A PORCUPINE QUILL PENETRATES HUMAN
SKIN BETTER THAN A HYPODERMIC NEEDLE
AND IT WILL CAUSE LESS TISSUE DAMAGE…
AT LEAST UNTIL YOU TRY TO PULL IT OUT

What’s more surprising is that the barbs on the quill also make it easier to penetrate the flesh of an animal. This seems odd, because as the quill enters, the barbs should be squeezed against the shaft of the quill. It isn’t obvious why that should aid penetration, but the experimental data are unambiguous. A team led by Jeffrey Karp at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology compared the performance of porcupine quills with hypodermic needles, quills with the barbs sanded off, quills from the African porcupine (whose quills have no barbs) and even artificial quills fashioned from polyurethane. Careful measurements of the penetration force needed for all these showed conclusively that barbed quills penetrate most easily, even better than a standard 18-gauge hypodermic needle. Related to that ease is the fact that the barbed quills cause less tissue damage on entering.

The secret seems to be how the stress of entering flesh is distributed. The team argues that because stress is concentrated around the barbs, the necessity of ripping open an entire circle of flesh is unnecessary, just like a serrated knife edge cuts more easily than a smooth edge. The results are obvious in photomicrographs of cut surfaces: barbed quills cut much more smoothly with less tearing of flesh.

Porcupine

Karp’s team have biomimicry on their minds: they’re working on an improved hypodermic needle that would have the ease of penetration of the barbed quill (without the difficulty of withdrawing it). They’re also thinking of a “biomimetic patch,” something to remain in place over tissues as they heal. In this case, both attributes of barbed quills would be important, especially the resistance to detachment.

At the same time, there are biological questions, like why does the North American porcupine have barbed quills while its African cousin doesn’t? The main predators of the African porcupine are formidable enough, including lions, hyenas and large birds of prey. Is there something different or more intense about the predatory pressure on our local porkies that would encourage barbed quills? In fact, although they seem like they should be more effective than barbless quills, there are several efficient porcupine killers in North America, especially the fisher. Barbed quills are a sophisticated deterrent, but not quite perfect.

Reprinted from Canadian Wildlife magazine. Get more information or subscribe now! Now on newsstands! Or, get your digital edition today