The Shelled Inhabitants of Balsam Lake Provincial Park

This past week (July 27-31) I had the privilege of joining Kylee and Crystal on the BIObus when it travelled to Balsam Lake Provincial Park and Indian Point Provincial Park. Balsam Lake Provincial Park is a small park located on the Northwestern edge of Balsam Lake in the Kawartha Lakes. This park offers a diversity of both terrestrial and aquatic environments, including mixed deciduous forests (including maple and oak), stands of coniferous trees (balsam fir, white pine, white spruce, and eastern white cedar), open meadows, marshes, streams, and of course, a lake. Within these environments, there lives a host of animal life, including a diversity of fish, mammals (even black bears!), reptiles, amphibians, birds, and a huge array of interesting invertebrates.

We were lucky to encounter much of this wildlife on our visit, and I’d like to share our encounters with two very neat animals that we found in the park, both of which have a shell covering their bodies as a source of protection from predators. The first is the often needlessly feared snapping turtle, which gets its name from its reputation of snapping its sharp jaws and occasionally inflicting harm. However, like most other animal species, these animals need not be feared as long as we give them space and respect. Unlike other turtles, snapping turtles have a very small plastron (which is the underside portion of their shell). Because of this, they are not able to completely retreat into their shells as a form of defense, as many other turtles are able to do. Instead, they will snap their sharp beak at potential threats when they cannot easily escape. This is especially the case on land, where the turtles are slow and cannot quickly escape from predators. When given the chance, the turtle will swim away rather than snap at us humans or any other potential threat. Despite the fact that we found two snappers during our five-day trip, they are actually listed as a Species At Risk in Ontario. Snapping turtle defenses, including both their shell and jaws, are no defense against a car on the road, where snappers frequently cross to find nesting sites. If you find a snapping turtle on the road, help it across by using a shovel to transport it or, if it is small, by picking it up gently on either side of its shell (as I am holding the turtle below) and moving it to the side of the road where it was already headed.

A small snapping turtle
A small snapping turtle
Holding the snapping turtle gently between my fingers.
Holding the snapping turtle gently between my fingers.

The second shelled inhabitant that we encountered was a neat aquatic snail that we found in a wetland within Balsam Lake Provincial Park on our last sampling day. These snails were quite large, with a long spiraled shell as long as my thumb, and are likely a type of pond snail (Lymnaeidae). They seemed to be fairly common in this particular wetland, although we found them at no other sites. This illustrates the importance of sampling many different sites within an area, as the flora can be quite different even from one neighbouring wetland to the next. After collecting these snails from the water, I was excited to notice that these were air-breathing (pulmonate, or lung-breathing) snails. They would crawl or float up to the surface of the water, and then extend a “respiratory tube” (also called a siphon or an elongated pneumostome) to breathe in some air before drawing the siphon inside the shell and continuing to move around beneath the water. Below are some pictures of these snails as well as one which is using its siphon to breathe air.

Aquatic snail we found in a wetland at Balsam Lake Provincial Park
Aquatic snails we found in a wetland at Balsam Lake Provincial Park
Notice the open siphon of the respiratory tube of the snail so it can breathe air
Notice the open siphon of the respiratory tube of the snail so it can breathe air

These shelled creatures are only two of the many things we observed on our trip, but unfortunately I don’t have room to tell you everything in this blog. Check out some of our other blogs for more info about this and other parks! I also encourage you to get out and explore; even your own backyard may contain a host of creatures you didn’t know were there! Thanks to Crystal and Kylee for being such great bus-mates. Until next time!

– Rachael

Kylee, Crystal and I posing at the park sign
Kylee, Crystal and I posing at the park sign

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