Regina is now home to the largest western painted turtle ever recorded in North America.
Earlier this month, University of Regina graduate student Kelsey Marchand and her assistant, Alyssa Stulberg, found the turtle—which has since been named Olga—while exploring the Wascana marsh area.
Olga’s carapace (which is the technical name for the top of a turtle’s shell) measured 26.6 centimetres. Prior to Olga, the record was held by a 25.4-centimeter turtle who held the title since 1921.
“When I first saw her head pop out of the water, I honestly thought it was a snapping turtle. It was such a massive head,” said Marchand in an interview with the Star Phoenix.
And Olga wasn’t the only giant turtle residing in Wascana. Marchand and Stulberg discovered another female turtle—now dubbed Houdini—measuring 25.3 centimeters.
Although Olga and Houdini’s exact ages are unknown, Ray Poulin, a scientist at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, says they could be as old as the province.
“Turtles are long-lived and slow growing. These two big turtles were likely in Regina when the Riders won their first Grey Cup back in 1996 and they just may have been here when Saskatchewan joined confederation in 1905,” Poulin told the CBC.
Marchand is currently researching the turtle population in Saskatchewan as part of a joint project with the Royal Saskatchewan Museum. In total, 15 turtles have been outfitted with radio transmitters and since released back to their homes – including Olga and Houdini in the Wascana marsh. Researchers will be able to track the turtles using an antennas to see where they’re mating, laying their eggs and hibernating.
“The more we’re able to learn about them, the more data we’ll be able to have to sort of backtrack in the future,” Marchand said to the Star Phoenix.
Along with Olga and Houdini, the researchers also found a turtle as young as three-years-old in the marsh.
“It makes us hopeful that this is a sign of a healthy population,” Marchand said.