'They felt like little ice balls': baby turtles saved from freezing to death

A conservation group is urging people to be on the lookout for baby snapping turtles during this year's unusually late hatching season, after a number were found nearly frozen to death on the side of a Beaver Bank, N.S., road.

Clarence Stevens of Turtle Patrol Nova Scotia said warm temperatures earlier this week prompted the hatching of many turtles in their underground nests. But by the time many reached the surface there was a drastic drop in temperature as they tried to make it to water.

"We saw baby turtles on the side of the road and they were literally frozen in place," said Stevens.

Cold-blooded creatures like turtles can handle freezing temperatures for a short time. The state Stevens saw the turtles in is known as "cold stunned."

"We just picked them up and with the warmth of our hands, within a minute, several of them started moving right away," said Stevens. "They felt like little ice balls when we picked them up."

Al Eastman

Stevens is urging people to keep an eye out for baby snappers because there is a concern another day of warm temperatures followed by a quick cold snap forecasted for Saturday will trigger the same situation he encountered.

He said people should gently warm the creatures in their hands and then take them to the nearest water.

"Cold-blooded creatures can withstand a fair bit of cold, they basically reach the state where they are immobile in very low temperatures, sort of like a hibernation state," he said.

Snapping turtles usually lay their eggs in late spring or early summer. But this year conditions in the spring were very cold and that pushed back the timeline.

"Normally, most baby turtles are hatched in the month of September and small amounts that come out in October," said Stevens.

Prior to this week, he said, the latest baby turtles have been found was Nov. 7, and they too were cold stunned.

Tasha Theriault/Turtle Patrol Nova Scotia

Snapping turtles live in freshwater lakes and ponds, but Stevens said sea turtles also face the same problem, with rapid changes in warm and cold air temperatures posing a danger as they emerge from nests near the water.

The Canadian Sea Turtle Network is currently looking for volunteers to be on the lookout for baby sea turtles that may fall into the cold-stunned state.

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