Species At Risk

Wood Turtle

(Glyptemys insculpta)



Historically, the Wood Turtle was known as “old red leg” owing to the orange or brick-red colour of its legs. A mid-sized turtle, the Wood Turtle reaches its full size of 20-24 cm long around the age of 20. Unlike other Ontario turtles, these turtles do not shed their scutes (sections of shell), and they develop a rugged, gnarled appearance as they age.

Action we are taking:


In Ontario, Wood Turtles have been found in three separate regions of the province. Studies are underway to determine more accurately the size and extent of these populations and threats they’re facing. The Wood Turtle is found in isolated patches from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick south to Virginia, and west through southern Quebec and Ontario to Minnesota and northeastern Iowa.


The Wood Turtle prefers clear rivers, streams or creeks with a slight current and sandy or gravelly bottom.It spends more time on land and the shores of water- courses than other native Ontario turtles. Wooded areas are essential habitat for the Wood Turtle, but they are found in other habitats, such as wet meadows, swamps and fields. Wood Turtles overwinter on stream bottoms.


Ontario’s Wood Turtles are at risk from habitat loss and degradation; predation by raccoons, skunks, foxes and pets; human activity such as illegal collection for personal pets or for the pet trade; and road mortality. This turtle’s slow growth, late maturity and low reproductive success rate increases its vulnerability to all of these threats.


The Wood Turtle is listed as endangered under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act.

The Ministry of Natural Resources has prepared a provincial recovery strategy for the Wood Turtle. The strategy includes recommendations for Wood Turtle recovery, that include habitat restoration, head starting (captive raising and releasing of turtles), and further research into the threats facing this species.

What You Can Do to Help the Wood Turtles

  • One of the major threats facing Wood Turtles is habitat loss. If you are a land owner, you may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.
  • Every year turtles all over the province must cross busy roads to get to their nesting sites. Road mortality is a major threat to this species. Watch for turtles on the roads, especially May through October. Some municipalities post road signs in areas where turtles are common.
  • If you do find an injured Wood Turtle (or any injured native wildlife) you can contact the MNR for a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators in your area. Call toll free: 1-800-667-1940.
  • Report your sightings of Wood Turtles, and other native turtles, to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. http://nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca/species/species_report.cfm
  • Illegal collection for the pet trade of Ontario’s native turtles is jeopardizing this species‘ future. Never purchase wild caught turtles, and never purchase native species of any kind being sold as pets. Keeping Wood Turtles as pets is not allowed in Ontario.
  • Report any wildlife related infractions to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).

Did you know?

Although Wood Turtles spend time in wooded areas, that’s not how they got their name. Wood Turtles were named because as they age, their shells take on a wooden appearance.

Did you know?

Wood Turtles do not begin reproducing until they are at least 17 years old.

Did you know?

Wood Turtles as old as 46 years old have been found in Ontario!

Did you know?

Wood Turtles, like all reptiles, are “ectotherms” (often incorrectly called “cold blooded”). This means turtles can’t regulate their own body temperatures. They rely on their environment to warm them up. This is why you can spot turtles basking on logs and rocks on sunny days.

Did you know?

Wood Turtles are omnivores. They eat insects, slugs, snails, worms, plants, berries, and even fungi. Wood Turtles are one of the few kinds of Ontario turtles that do not need to be under water to swallow their food.

Did you know?

Wood Turtles have an interesting hunting method; they stomp their feet on the ground to entice worms out of the soil.

The Endangered Species Act

Contact your local ministry office

Often the best source of local information on species at risk is your nearest ministry office. Call with your questions or concerns.