Blanding’s Turtle

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Blanding’s turtles are one of seven listed turtle species categorized as endangered or threatened in Illinois. The Nature Museum is committed to restoring the population of this endangered native species and help reestablish ecological balance to the area.

Since 2008, the distinctive yellow throat, chin, and apparent permanent smile of the Blanding’s turtles 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.

About the Blanding’s Turtle

Blanding’s 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. The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum Living Collections team is working to protect Blanding’s turtles through a headstart program that allows the turtles to continue living in the wild.

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What are we doing to help?

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 headstart program and were given six hatchlings for educational purposes. After a year, those hatchlings were so healthy that the Museum was provided with additional hatchlings for care.

Since 2008, the Living Collections team at the Nature Museum has headstarted and released over 1,100 Blanding’s turtle hatchlings. Research focused on the DuPage County populations has demonstrated that headstarting has sustained the local populations and that headstarted turtles are now reproducing.

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 DuPage Forest Preserve Districts’ head office and the females are returned to the exact location they were found in the wild.

The sex of the hatchlings can be determined by the temperature at which they are incubated. In this headstarting program researchers will incubate eggs at slightly warmer temperatures in order to hatch more female turtles.

The Museum raises the hatchlings for one year after they hatch. Our scientists monitor their growth and feed the hatchlings a variety of live food that they will need to be able to catch once released. 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. At the Nature Museum, the Blanding’s turtle exhibit and conservation lab have one-way glass to minimize turtle habituation to humans.

The Living Collections team 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.

Headstarts that have been reared for the past year, are typically released in August, and a new batch of turtles that have just hatched are brought to the Museum.

To date, over 1,100 Blanding’s turtles have been released into the wild by the Museum.

In late 2021, shell fungal disease, an emerging disease that causes lesions in the shells of turtles, was detected in headstart turtles across multiple counties in Illinois. The disease is caused by a fungus called Emydomyces testavorans. Headstarting in Illinois was paused while researchers work to determine the source of the disease, and collaborate on treatment trials. Currently, the Nature Museum is part of a clinical trial to test effectiveness of a treatment with 14 Blanding’s turtle headstarts that have tested positive for the fungus.

Many partners in the Illinois Blanding’s turtle recovery effort have helped conduct field sampling to determine if and where the pathogen may be present in the wild. Led by the University of Illinois Wildlife Epidemiology Lab, disease sampling includes collection of swabs and blood samples to detect presence of the fungus.

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"The most rewarding moments are when the turtles are released, after rearing them for a year, knowing these state-endangered turtles will have a better chance at survival."


Funders for the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum of the Chicago Academy of Sciences' work with the Blanding’s turtle include the Vanderpoel Foundation and Art Cherolia.

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