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Promoting Public Awareness Of Wildlife Habitats Through Environmental Education

What Are the KFTEE Turtles Up to?

What Are the KFTEE Turtles up to?

Van Gogh-web

Turtles hibernate during the cold winter months much the same as bears. They spend the Fall days eating many extra calories to “fatten up” for the winter. At the end of Fall, as the days begin to get  cooler and cooler the turtles become much less active until they finally burrow themselves down into the mud at the bottom of ponds, lakes, rivers and wetlands and hibernate throughout the winter. Each species of turtle has a preferred hibernation location.

During hibernation painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) can slow their metabolism down more than any other animal who hibernates. A hibernating painted turtle like, Van Gogh can slow its heart beat down to 1 beat every 5 to 10 minutes! In order to keep their metabolism very slow turtles only perform essential functions to keep them alive. This does not include activities such as breathing, but mostly making energy for the turtle to survive. During the ice free period turtles obtain oxygen by breathing through their skin either on land or in the water. The oxygen is needed for a process called aerobic respiration which converts sugars into energy. When there is no oxygen available to the turtle under the ice turtles are still able to convert sugars to energy through various chemical functions within the body without using any oxygen.  This process is called anaerobic respiration. The painted turtle (Chrysemys picta)  is one of the only vertebrates that is able to live without oxygen for up to 5 months!

Turtles are able to withstand the below zero freezing temperatures and even stay alive in totally frozen over ponds. During hibernation several changes to the metabolic activities within their bodies happen and that includes an increased concentration of glycerol and other factors such as amino acids. The higher concentration of these factors protect the cells during freezing temperatures and works as an antifreeze to protect the turtle from freezing to death. The antifreeze in turtles works the same way in cars and school buses here in our cold winter season. Imagine if our cars did not have any antifreeze. They would freeze solid ! As soon as all the ice starts melting off the water bodies and the water temperatures begin to warm up as a result of the warm Spring sunshine the turtles will wake from their hibernation and become active again.

Our KFT turtles do not hibernate. Coco, our snapping turtle stays with her volunteer family over the winter and enjoys her days eating and basking under her sun lamp. Van Gogh, our painted turtle also has a volunteer family that she lives with and she spends most of her days eating her favourite treats, big fat meal worms, followed by a lazy day of basking under her lamp.

However, Van Gogh has also been a very busy turtle this winter. She has been out meeting many new friends and helping children learn about her and other native turtle species. Teacher Candidates Nikki McBride and Sydney Raeburn have been taking Van Gogh all over Simcoe County to deliver excellent outreach programming to students.  Nikki and Sydney are Honours Concurrent Education students in their fifth year. Nikki and Sydney are taking an honours internship class where they develop educational programming, with their partner Kids For Turtles, and then travel to primary and junior classrooms in the Simcoe County area and present a free interactive environmental program.

With the help of Van Gogh, Nikki and Sydney teach young students the importance of protecting Ontario turtles and their natural habitats. The interactive program focuses on invasive species, biodiversity, human impact on animals and their habitats and how each student can personally help to sustain the environment and our turtle populations.  Students are provided with a hands on experience that closely aligns with the Provincial elementary education curriculum and enlightens them about the species that live in our local areas. Everyone gets to meet and pet Van Gogh! This year Van Gogh has visited 9 schools and has met approximately 500 students! That’s 500 more people who have become educated about turtles, their habitat and how they can help. Great job Nikki and Sydney! If you or a teacher you know is interested in having Van Gogh visit your classroom let us know. Contact us at and we will forward your request onto Nikki and Sydney.

Van Gogh is not the only one who has been busy this winter. KFT has been putting on some great winter events like shoe snowing. The last snowshoe event saw almost 130 people! The day was filled with a beautiful hike on the trails of Scout Valley and a light but hearty lunch.

March break is quickly approaching and that means winter is on its way out. Spring will bring warmth and wake up the turtles. Keep an eye out for new fun and exciting events at KFT, or join us by purchasing a membership that will ensure you are involved in all we do.