About a year and a half ago I put together a proposal for us to become involved in a local project which works towards the conservation and restoration of Blandings Turtles.
The Blandings Turtle Emydoidea blandingii is a semi-aquatic turtle that is found throughout much of the great lakes region. It is a gentle, shy creature with a characteristic yellow lower jaw and an apparent permanent smile. (As I hope you can see in the photo above.) It is now listed as threatened in Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan and endangered in Indiana. As is so often the case, humans are the root cause of its problems. Raccoons, skunks and coyotes are their natural predators and with the increased human population, because of all the delicious garbage we produce, the raccoon, skunk and coyote populations have ballooned. This is bad news for the Blandings because all three of these predators feast on turtle eggs and hatchlings. The Blandings, like many turtle species, are long-lived and do not become reproductively active until they are in their middle teens. When the female has mated she will wander several miles in search of a suitable nesting site, many females are now getting killed on roads as a result of this. Several years ago Du Page County began a Blandings headstarting project. This involves collecting eggs from both captive and wild females, hand rearing the hatchlings for two years and then releasing them into suitable, restored habitat and monitoring them via radio transmitters.
Two months ago we took delivery of two seven year old females (one of which is in the top picture) and three one year old hatchlings (one seen on my hand above). We had a custom built tank made for them, thanks to an extremely generous donation to the Museum, with 'land' areas and plenty of water for the turtles to swim around in. The tank also has one-way glass so that we can see the turtles but they can't see us. This is particularly important for the hatchlings because they are going to be re-released so they must not become too used to humans.
This picture shows Jamie introducing one of the females to its new abode!
The reason the scheme is called headstarting is that with the correct nutrition and care, a two year old captive raised turtle can be between two and three times the size of a wild one of the same age. When the captive raised turtle is then released into the wild, it is bigger and stronger and so more likely to survive - so we are giving it a headstart!
We have to monitor the growth rates of the turtles to ensure they are getting the correct variety of nutrients (just like any baby!) They have a varied menu which includes earthworms, crickets, fish, mealworms, greens and pelleted turtle food (YUM!)
Each month we have to weigh and measure each turtle to ensure that they are not growing too fast or too slowly. It is just as easy for a turtle in captivity to become obese as it is for your pet dog!
Weight watchers for turtles! Here is one of the hatchlings being weighed.
And then carefully measured.
Finally, each hatchling has a number, in order to track which clutch of eggs it came from. These numbers wear off over time so when we weigh and measure them, we re-apply their number too. (Some people think that the numbers are for turtle races, rather like Nascar!)
This is the beginning of an exciting new project for us. If all goes as planned, our three hatchlings will be released later this year, equipped with tiny radio transmitters, and we will then be given several newly hatched babies to raise. The two, larger, females will stay with us until they are old enough to reproduce when they will be taken to an outside enclosure with good sandy areas for them to dig and lay their eggs. These are very endearing creatures and it is a great thrill to be actively involved in doing something to redress the balance and give their species a better chance of surviving.
This is a link to a piece I did for local TV about the Blandings Turtles.
Photo Credits - CJT and Jamie Stubis.
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