With perpetual smiles on their faces, Blanding’s turtle yearlings raised by DuPage Forest Preserve District partners were recently released in DuPage forest preserves.
Partners from Shedd Aquarium, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Cosley Zoo and Forest Preserve District of Will County beamed with pride as they prepared their young turtles for release with Forest Preserve District ecologist Dan Thompson as part of the District’s long-running Blanding’s head-start program, now in its 25th year.
This year 247 of the state-endangered turtles were released under the program, which collects Blanding’s turtle eggs and raises them in captivity for about a year before releasing them into the wild to give them a better chance of survival. One of the biggest threats to Blanding’s turtles is predators eating their eggs in the nest. At least 90 percent of turtle nests are destroyed by predators during the 60-day incubation period each year.
The head-start program improves their odds by collecting female Blanding’s turtles from wetlands and marshes in DuPage forest preserves before they lay their eggs in the spring, collecting their eggs and incubating them at the Forest Preserve District. After the eggs hatch, they are kept and reared for about a year before being released back into the preserves.
“We should be close to 3,900 turtles hatched out by the end of the 25th year of the program,” Thompson said. “Last year about 40% of the hatchlings were from our head-start females that have reached maturity,” Thompson said. “These are eggs and turtles that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for this program.”
A Shedd staffer covers up the number on the shell of a Blanding's yearling prior to releasing it in a DuPage forest preserve recently.
The Forest Preserve District has been able to expand and improve the program with help from partners such as Shedd Aquarium, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Wheaton Park District’s Cosley Zoo, Forest Preserve District of Will County, Brookfield Zoo, and St. Charles Park District.
Here’s a roundup of our program partners who participated in the recent release.
In its third year in the program, Shedd released 23 yearling Blanding’s turtles. Shedd houses its hatchlings in its onsite animal hospital, called the A. Watson Armour III Center for Aquatic Animal Health and Welfare, according to Shedd Public Relations Coordinator Kayley Ciocci.
The aquarium’s animal care team rear the hatchlings behind the scenes to ensure the turtles don’t imprint or become habituated to humans.
"I'm passionate about taking care of the unique wildlife that's endangered in our own backyard," said Shedd senior staff veterinarian Dr. Matt O'Connor, who grew up in DuPage County.
DuPage Forest Preserve District ecologist Dan Thompson (left) talks to Shedd staffers about one of the Blanding's yearlings being released at a DuPage forest preserve recently.
Shedd offers a behind-the-scenes tour that includes animals not seen in the public-facing habitats. The tour stops at the animal hospital and occasionally tour participants can view a live camera of the Blanding’s turtle habitat. The tour is currently on pause due to COVID-19, Ciocci said.
Some of the Blanding's yearlings raised at Shedd prior to their release at a DuPage forest preserve.
The Blanding’s turtles presence at Shedd “continues to advance awareness about this semi-aquatic Great Lakes turtle species, the threats they face in the wild that has made the species’ future uncertain and ways to take action for aquatic life,” Ciocci said.
The Shedd team with Forest Preserve District ecologist Dan Thompson release Blanding's yearlings at a DuPage forest preserve recently.
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
“We released 98 Blanding’s turtle hatchlings last week,” said Lalainya Goldsberry, manager of living collections at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. “We’ll be keeping 15 for a second year. They will be released in spring/summer 2021.”
The Blanding’s turtles have been a popular attraction at the museum in the “Mysteries of the Marsh -- Living Collections” section of the museum, which is currently closed due to COVID-19. On a whiteboard visible to the public and updated monthly, museum staff note each turtle’s weight and measurements, she said.
Lily Barajas, an animal caretaker at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, releases a Blanding's yearling at a DuPage forest preserve.
Both exhibits include information about the plight of Blanding’s turtles, and the turtles have been the focus of a number of public programs and education programs including teacher workshops and more informal “five-minute talks” for the general public, including help from Bob the Blanding’s education turtle.
“They are a highlight of the Living Collections,” Goldsberry said. “They have always been very popular with guests.”
Barajas has her hands full of Blanding's yearlings ready to be released in a DuPage forest preserve.
This year Cosley Zoo released 55 Blanding’s turtle yearlings. Cosley Zoo has been a partner in the Forest Preserve District’s Blanding’s turtle head-start program for 20 years, according to Wheaton Park District Marketing Director Margie Wilhelmi.
At Cosley Zoo, the Blanding’s turtles hatchlings are housed in water-filled tubs in the conservation room, which is off-limits to the public because they will be released in the wild, but there are several cameras in the room that send live video to a monitor so that visitors can observe the turtles in real time.
The zoo also has two permanent Blanding’s turtles on public display to help educate the public about the plight of the turtles.
Cosley Zoo zookeeper Christina Carlson Hass releases a Blanding's turtle yearling in a marsh at a DuPage forest preserve recently.
Forest Preserve District of Will County
The Forest Preserve District of Will County released 31 Blanding’s yearlings in a DuPage forest preserve this year, according to Jen Guest, an interpretive naturalist who cares for the turtles for the Forest Preserve District of Will County.
Sarah Russell, an interpretive naturalist at the Forest Preserve District of Will County, places a pit tag on a Blanding's turtle yearling before it's released in a DuPage forest preserve.
To increase awareness about the plight of Blanding’s turtles, Will County Forest Preserve District has a public display with adult and sub-adult Blanding’s turtles at its Isle a la Cache Museum in Romeoville. The display tank was installed at the museum in 2017 and live Blanding’s turtles that shouldn’t breed due to genetic anomalies are on display for educational purposes.
Jen Guest, an interpretive naturalist at the Forest Preserve District of Will County's Isle a la Cache Museum in Romeoville, releases Blanding's yearlings raised in Will County.
How You Can Help
Be part of the Forest Preserve District Blanding's turtle head-start program by adopting a hatchling to help cover the costs to care for a young turtle born as part of the program. You’ll be able to name the turtle, and your gift will also support field-monitoring efforts as well as habitat enhancement projects.