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I currently live about 25 miles northeast of Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. On February 20-21, 2015, a fairly significant snow and ice event struck the area. On February 29-March 1, 2016, a smaller event occurred also bringing a thin coating of ice. From February 20-24, 2017, it is sunny and 60°F (16°C) or higher. I mention this just to illustrate how unusual the weather has been at this time of year, during 2017.

My workplace overlooks a pond. In past summers, I have gone so far as to break out binocs and a guide book, and identified that we have at least one map turtle, five painted turtles, and maybe a red-eared slider.

Today (Feb 24, 2017) I went outside for a break and saw the map turtle and two of the painteds on one of the logs on the edge of the pond.

Considering that the long-term forecast does not preclude a return to more normal conditions (there is a blizzard not 200 miles away right now), is there any chance that this early emergence from their hibernacula could ultimately be harmful to these guys? Or could they just as easily return to the pond bottom and resume a state of brumation for another month or two?

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    Interestingly I was just planning a similar question about chipmunks. They're popping up out of the snow too early in the year, and I'm scared for them. – Sue Feb 25 '17 at 2:05
  • UPDATE 6 MARCH 2017 - Early last week there was some heavy rain that swelled the pond and turned it murky. Still, I may have seen one partially-submerged-turtle-shaped object drifting around. Then a few days later, it froze overnight and snowed until noon the next day. Now it has returned to the unseasonable warmth. A bit of a roller coaster from both human and reptile point of view. Anyway, today I saw two painteds on a log. Keeping an optimistic spirit here, until next update. – cobaltduck Mar 6 '17 at 19:10
  • Thanks for the update! Might you want to add it into the question? Updates are always helpful to the community, especially this type, so editing it in will bring the question forward for people to see. Comment updates are hard to find. They can also disappear over time. (By the way, I removed my previous comment because it was obsolete once I posted an answer.) Our weather's been crazy too, doing the exact same thing as yours. Movement under the water and painteds on a log definitely sound like good signs. I'll keep on hoping!! – Sue Mar 6 '17 at 19:30
  • UPDATE 21 MARCH 2107 - We remain on the temperature roller coaster, though it seems to be starting to stabilize. Anyway, ever since the snow events a couple weeks ago, I have seen no more than two painteds at any one time, and so far no other species. Still too early to jump to conclusions, though. At the least, the fact that there are two definite survivors is good reason for optimism. – cobaltduck Mar 21 '17 at 20:20
  • UPDATE 27 MARCH 2017 (FINAL) - Great news everyone! I just went out for a look during lunch, and saw a total of five turtles around the pond. One was the map, three were painteds, and one was either another painted or a slider. With the weather stabilizing toward definite spring conditions, it looks like our carapaced friends are in the clear. Yippee! – cobaltduck Mar 27 '17 at 17:19
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Charlie Brumbaugh gave you excellent information about land turtles. It may be exactly the same for aquatic species, but I'd really like to provide you with information about those. Unfortunately, it's turning out to be more complicated than I thought. If you don't mind, I wanted to at least post something, even though it's not exactly what you need yet. I'll probably have to make some phone calls to experts in order to get fully accurate information. I promise to come back with reputable sources, or delete it if it's just taking up a lot of space without really being helpful.

If some kind soul comes along with the right answer, that would be great!

The closest thing I've found so far pertains to the Western Painted Turtle, (Chrysemys picta belli). According to this fact sheet, an early thaw can be dangerous indeed.

Western painted turtles survive the winter by hibernating. In the fall they put on extra fat and, as the temperature drops, they gradually become less active. Finally they burrow deep into the mud at the bottom of ponds and go into hibernation. Scientists have found that the blood of hibernating turtles actually changes. Like the antifreeze used in the winter to keep the water in car radiators from freezing, turtle blood changes so that it can withstand cold temperatures. As a result, turtle body temperatures can drop to only a few degrees above freezing -- much lower than that of most animals that hibernate. As they warm up, turtles wake up and slowly become active.

Early warm spells can be dangerous because if they wake up too soon, a sudden return to cold weather may catch them unprepared and they may freeze. In fact, winter weather can be the biggest danger a turtle faces in its adult life. Painted turtles are hardy though, and it is not unusual to see them swimming under ice during the winter.

That being said, you don't actually have the Western Painted Turtle in Ohio. What you have is the Midland Painted Turtle, Chrysemys picta marginata. According to Ohio DNR Wildlife:

Midland painted turtles are among the most abundant and most conspicuous turtles in Ohio. They are particularly fond of basking and can be seen by the dozens on logs and along the banks of most bodies of water through the summer.

There are several subspecies of painted turtles in the United States, but only the midland painted turtle occurs in Ohio.

To confirm, here's a list of Ohio's 12 species of turtles. In the description of the midland turtle, it says

For more information, check out the Wikipedia page on Painted Turtles. Although this Wikipedia article discusses several varieties of painted turtle, only the Midland Painted Turtle lives in Ohio.

From that page:

While hibernating, the body temperature of the painted turtle averages 6 °C (43 °F). Periods of warm weather bring the turtle out of hibernation, and even in the north, individuals have been seen basking in February.

Unfortunately, it doesn't go on to say what happens if there's another freeze after that time.

You do have a Red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans), and two varieties of map turtles, the Common Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica), and the Ouachita Map Turtle (Graptemys ouachitensis). So far I'm finding different requirements for the Maps, which may indicate a better chance of success. I need to do some more research, though.


EDIT: Today, February 27, I spoke with a very kind woman at the Ohio Division of Wildlife. I told her where you live and which turtles you've seen. She said all your turtles have adapted to these changes in weather, and can go back into whatever state of hibernation is necessary to protect themselves. A full hibernation isn't always necessary, especially if it's just for a few weeks or so. Some Map turtles tend to end their hibernation earlier than the other breeds anyway. Unfortunately, if the turtles haven't sensed the weather getting colder, and are spending a lot of time out in the sun, a surprise freeze will cause them to pass away before they can get back under water. She said it's very rare, and happens quickly, so hopefully they don't suffer.

Those who are deceased can be seen at the water's edge, so it's up to you if you want to look around the pond area. I can't stand to see deceased creatures, so I'd probably stay away, but I won't even step on ants, and have been called over-sensitive many times!

I'd appreciate if you keep us posted, if you want to, and give us an update. I sincerely hope Mappy and his friends will be fine!

  • Thanks for wanting me to leave the answer. You're sweet! As you can see from the edit, I was able to get you more information. It helped me too, because we have the exact same thing happening here in Massachusetts. I love this warm weather but the ups and downs can be hard on the wildlife. – Sue Feb 27 '17 at 22:14
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    It's not only hard on the wildlife, but on the spring bulbs. My snowdrops (a) flowered several weeks late and (b) recent repeated days in the high 60s/low 70s caused the flowers to give up. Snowdrops gone in February! For decades they lasted until early or mid April; three years ago they went by in the middle of March, and this year they didn't make it to Feb 28. Grrr! – ab2 Feb 28 '17 at 1:57
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It looks like it can be harmful for the turtles.

Even the healthiest turtle may come out of hibernation too soon and be caught above ground by a spring snowstorm and perish. Many wild box turtles are eaten by foraging animals as they sleep, or freeze to death because they didn’t find satisfactory winter dens.

Source

Owner Joy Bloor said: "To hibernate properly they need to be under 6C. Above that and they start waking up and start using energy.

"It's energy they can't spare because they don't have the body weight, so we have to keep them warm with the lamps.

"They can't go back to sleep because they would die. If they are not warm enough they will not eat or drink.

"So they are up and about now for the year. It's definitely the earliest they've ever been awake.

"It's the weather. Most of them were still awake in mid-December because it was so mild and now they are out of hibernation already.

Source

  • Upvote from me! It's worth noting, though, that the sources you've referenced are about land turtles, and cobaltduck named aquatic turtles. (His question title just said turtles, so he might mean all types.) Box turtles (your first source), and tortoises (your second source) hibernate in the ground rather than underwater. I'm not questioning your advice, as dangerous shifts in temperature are probably the same, but land turtles don't need to worry about ice and water temperatures. I'm going to try to do some research about the specific turtles seen in the water, and add another answer. – Sue Feb 25 '17 at 0:02
  • I also +1'd, but I did make the same observation as @Sue, regarding terrestrial versus aquatic. I suspect in this case the same ideas will apply, unfortunate as that is for my Mappy and his friends. Keep your fingers crossed, everyone. I'll accept this later if no one else chimes in. – cobaltduck Feb 25 '17 at 13:29

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