New signs have been put up at the entrance of Scout Island in Williams Lake to remind, or educate, visitors that turtles may be crossing the causeway, and to use caution not to run them over.
“We think they might be sunning themselves on the causeway,” said Sue Hemphill, executive director for the Scout Centre Nature Centre, of the turtles.
“We are really asking people to drive slowly and if you see a turtle, stop, get out and help the turtle across the road.”
Hemphill said Williams Lake has the northern-most population of the painted turtle, which appears to be a different genetic strain than similar turtles in southern B.C. and studies are being done on them.
Large breeding turtles have been making the lake their home for many years and can live 30 to 40 years. Hemphill said the turtles, which can grow as big as a dinner plate, can be seen sunning themselves near Scout Island on logs in the water, which they do to warm up and also to get leeches off of themselves.
The painted turtles breed in the spring in May and June and then lay their eggs which hatch in August in the nest. The young stay in the nest over winter.
“They can freeze there. They can freeze solid and it does not kill them,” Hemphill said of the life of a turtle, noting they nest along the south-facing edge of the lake in soft sand, gravel or dirt. “Then in the spring the little babies go down in the lake and from then on they can’t freeze they have to hibernate at the bottom of the lake in the mud, and they get oxygen when they are down their through their butts.”
Williams Lake Field Naturalists, which oversee Scout Island, do not cut the grass along the causeway for many reasons, one being the grass provides protection from predators such as raptors for the turtles.