Since 2008, the distinctive yellow throat, chin and apparent permanent smile of the Blanding's turtles on display in the Mysteries of the Marsh exhibit have been a staple of the Nature Museum experience. But the Museum’s involvement with the Blanding’s goes beyond the Museum's walls. The Nature Museum is committed to restoring the population of this endangered, native species and help reestablish ecological balance to the area.
About the Blanding's Turtle
Blanding's turtles are one of seven listed turtle species categorized as endangered or threatened in Illinois. The turtles have a very distinctive appearance that makes them easily recognizable to those who are lucky enough to come across one—just look for the bright yellow chin and charming smile. Unfortunately, Blanding’s turtles’ grins are becoming less prominent in Illinois due to habitat degradation and over-predation, particularly by raccoons, which are thriving due to human population increases. Celeste Troon and her team at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum are working to protect Blanding’s turtles through a breeding and headstart program that allows the turtles to continue living in the wild.
What the Museum is Doing to Help
THE ORIGIN OF THE BLANDING'S TURTLE PROGRAM
The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum got involved in the preservation of the Blanding’s turtle in 2008 when they joined the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County's Blanding's turtle head-start program and were given six hatchlings for educational purposes. After a year, those hatchings were so healthy that the museum was provided additional hatchlings for care. Today, the majority of hatchlings in this program are brought to the Nature Museum. In fact, the Nature Museum reared 135 hatchlings in 2017 alone.
TRACKING THE RARE FEMALE BLANDING'S
The project tracks and monitors between 20 and 25 female Blanding’s turtles in the wild with the use of radio transmitters. In late April/early May, our researchers go into the field and if we find that one of the females is gravid (carrying eggs), we take her to Willowbrook Wildlife Center to lay them in laying pens. The eggs are then collected and put into an incubator at the Du Page Forest Preserve Districts’ head office and the females are returned to the exact location they were found in the wild.
The gender of the hatchlings can be determined by the temperature at which they are incubated. Many times, researchers will incubate slightly warmer in order to hatch more female turtles.
THE HATCHLING PROCESS
The Museum raises the hatchlings for one year after they hatch. Our scientists feed the hatchlings a variety of live food that they will need to be able to catch once released, monitor their growth, and take tail clippings and (blood) samples for further analysis. This is all done with minimal contact to ensure the turtles don’t become habituated to humans. When they are newly-hatched, the delicate Blanding’s turtles start out in very shallow water. As they grow throughout the year, the water is made deeper and the current made stronger, so the turtles learn how to swim and develop the strength they need to survive in the wild.
PREPARING THE BLANDING’S TURTLES FOR RELEASE
The Museum microchips hatchlings in July so they can track them over the following year. This helps the Museum’s researchers with a method of identifying the turtles in the field.
RELEASING THE BLANDING’S TURTLES
In August, the Museum will release the hatchlings they have been rearing for the past year and then begin the caring process over again with a new batch of turtles that have just hatched.
To date, 551 Blanding’s turtles have been released into the wild by the Museum.
Meet the Expert
Celeste Troon is the Curator and Director of Living Collections at the Chicago Academy of Sciences / Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. There, she manages the Blanding's turtle conservation, and organizes the acquisition of new species for the living collections and the loan of species from other organizations.
Blog Post: Blanding's Turtle Identification
Funders for the Chicago Academy of Sciences / Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s work with the Blanding’s turtle include the Vanderpoel Foundation and Art Cherolia.