Painted turtles are the world’s most northerly turtles and to survive the freezing temperatures they have developed a unique hibernation method.
On a recent episode of Frozen Planet II, a camera crew managed to film the turtles as they awoke from their deep slumber during which their hearts had stopped beating and only their brains remain slightly active.
To film this magical awakening, the BBC built a special filming chamber in Canada to record the tiny reptiles that are not much larger than a quarter.
Jane Atkins, a producer for Frozen Planet II, says that after speaking to reptilian expert Dr. Patrick Baker she became “fascinated about this little-known story.”
“I decided to try to film it as perhaps the most extreme example of ‘hibernation’ in the frozen world,” she writes.
“We knew we would need Patrick’s expertise, as he had years of data on exact temperatures that the turtles would tolerate through the cold, and then ‘wake up to.”
Drawing on Dr. Baker’s expertise, the film crew built a studio nest inside a cabin near the border of the United States and Canada — close to where the turtles live naturally.
“The crew prepared their cameras and lights whilst Patrick advised on the time frame we had to get each shot based on temperature response,” says Atkins.
“Patrick had, six months earlier, in the Autumn, already collected the hatchlings from his study site, and had kept them for us, so he was ready with the collection of baby turtles all in deep winter sleep.”
With the sleeping turtles in place in the forest studio, the crew filmed them coming back to life.
“The most fascinating moments were when the temperatures were raised to around 0 degrees centigrade [32 degrees Fahrenheit], and the turtles started to move for the first time in months,” says Atkins.
“It was like a spell being lifted. To see them stretch, open their eyes, and take long deep breaths in spring was incredible because it seems to defy the common laws of nature.”
After their turtles had thawed, the hatchlings were safely returned to their natural habitat where they continue to be observed.