Pacific Pond Turtles at Hollister Ranch


The indigenous wildlife at Hollister Ranch remains in an undisturbed state due to the lack of developed acreage. When, and if, the Hollister Ranch is ever developed as much as is legally permissible, there will be over 14,000 acres of open space out of the 14,600-acre cattle ranch. The Pacific Pond Turtle is an example of that wildlife. Shielded from human presence and activity, these turtles enjoy large and growing populations.

The Pacific Pond Turtle is a small to medium-sized turtle growing to approximately 8 inches in length. It is limited to the west coast of the United States of America and Mexico, ranging from western Washington state to northern Baja California. The shell is usually dark brown or dull olive. The underside is yellowish, sometimes with dark blotches. The shell is 4.5–8.5 inches in length. The shell is low and broad, usually widest behind the middle.

Pacific Pond Turtles originally ranged from northern Baja California, Mexico, north to the Puget Sound region of Washington. Due to ongoing preservation efforts, the Pacific Pond Turtle is abundant in the streams at Hollister Ranch.

Pacific Pond Turtles occur in both permanent and intermittent waters, including marshes, streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes. They favor habitats with large numbers of emergent logs or boulders, where they aggregate to bask. They also bask on top of aquatic vegetation or position. Consequently, this species is often overlooked in the wild. However, it is possible to observe resident turtles by moving slowly and hiding behind shrubs and trees.

In addition to their aquatic habitat, terrestrial habitat is also extremely important for Pacific Pond Turtles. Since many intermittent ponds can dry up during summer and fall months along the west coast, especially during times of drought, pond turtles can spend upwards of 200 days out of water. Many turtles overwinter outside of the water, during which time they often create their nest for the year.

Pacific Pond Turtles are omnivorous and most of their animal diet includes insects, crayfish and other aquatic invertebrates. Fish, tadpoles, and frogs are eaten occasionally, and carrion is eaten when available. Plant foods include filamentous algae, lily pads, tule and cattail roots.

Because of their hard shell, Western pond turtles are generally well protected. However, several predators do threaten this species, especially hatchlings, due to their small size and soft shell. Raccoons, otters, ospreys and coyotes are the biggest natural threat to these turtles, and hatchlings have the additional threats of weasels, bullfrogs, and large fish.

It may be that the nest is the safest place for hatchlings to shelter while they await the return of warm weather. Whether it is hatchlings or eggs that overwinter, young first appear in the spring following the year of egg deposition. Individuals grow slowly in the wild, and their age at their first reproduction may be 10 to 12 years in the northern part of the range. Western pond turtles may survive more than 50 years in the wild.

Finally, this species has the threat of humankind. Due to habitat destruction, this species is currently listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. With the removal of ponds, wetlands, and contamination of other water sources, this species is vulnerable and at risk of becoming extinct without the continuing efforts of reintroducing these turtles to their native range.

Habitat for the Pacific Pond Turtle is protected and preserved by the owners at Hollister Ranch. The turtles are particularly fond of the mud slopes along streambeds kept moist by the presence of the cattle. The photo of the three turtles was taken by us at Hollister Ranch Realty, and they were named Drake, Anita and Little Drake for the area in which the photo was taken.