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Researchers lure Manitoulin Island turtle predators with decoy

Researchers are using a turtle decoy to help determine what may have killed dozens of turtles near Misery Bay on Manitoulin Island.
A decoy Blandings Turtle (on left) and a real turtle shown side-by-side. (Supplied)

Researchers at Laurentian University are hoping a fake turtle will shed some light on a mystery on Manitoulin Island. 

Jackie Litzgus, a biology professor at Laurentian University, said a decoy Blandings Turtle will be used to determine which predators might be killing turtles.

Last year dozens of dead turtles were discovered near Misery Bay on Manitoulin Island.

Laurentian University biology professor Jackie Litzgus holds a Blandings Turtle shell. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

Litzgus said the most likely culprit is some kind of predator. By using a turtle decoy, along with game cameras, researchers hope to capture video of what may be killing the turtles. 

"It is a perfect mimic of a Blandings Turtle," said Litzgus, describing the decoy. "It feels like a Nerf football. It's surprisingly foamy and light."

Litzgus said the decoy smells like foam, so it may not be effective in attracting mammals that use their sense of smell, such as weasels and mink.

But visual predators, such as ravens and crows, may be lured in by the decoy while circling above, she noted. 

A decoy Blandings Turtle used in an investigation at Misery Bay on Manitoulin Island. (Supplied)

Road kill remains a major threat to turtles

Litzgus joked that they may possibly witness people interacting with the decoy.

But she doesn't believe humans are responsible for the dead turtles.

"One of the threats to turtles is when they are collected by poachers for food and the pet trade," Litzgus said.

But in the case of the dead turtles on Manitoulin Island, all of the carcasses were left behind. 

Litzgus said turtle decoys have been used in the past for a different reason.

They were used in one study that showed three per cent of motorists swerved their vehicles to intentionally run over decoy turtles. Road kill remains a major threat to turtles in North America.

Litzgus said she believes this is the first time a turtle decoy has been used in a field study of this kind.

"I'm excited to see what the field cameras will show."

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