Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Blanding’s Turtle

The last thing Erika and I expected to see during a recent tour of Minneapolis water features was a woman with a Blanding’s Turtle under her arm. Any turtle would have been a surprise, but especially one classified as Threatened in Minnesota. This species is found from Minnesota and Nebraska east to New England. Nowhere is it common. Threats include habitat fragmentation and destruction and predators. Many are killed as they attempt to cross highways.  Females often nest in agricultural fields and thus are threatened by "chemicals, disking, machinery usage, increased nest predation, and shade produced by growing crops" (MN DNR).
Blanding's Turtles take 14 to 20 years to reach sexual maturity and may live up to 80 years. Typical of a long-lived species, they lay few eggs—only an average of eight per clutch (Wikipedia). This low reproductive rate makes recovery from ecological threats all the more difficult—mortality rates reaching 93% are reported for eggs and young (MN DNR).

They hibernate under mud and vegetation in ponds, from whence they may travel up to a mile (thus exposing themselves to the risk of automobiles on roads). They are agile swimmers and are omnivorous, consuming invertebrates, small vertebrates, and vegetation. Field marks include the spots on the upper shell and the bright yellow throat and chin.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources warns that possessing Blanding’s Turtles is illegal. The woman we met on our tour was quick to assure us that she found this turtle in the road near Farmington, and planned to release it in a wild area “up north.” My impression that the woman had contacted the DNR about her transplant plan—we just hope that this Blanding’s Turtle does not have strong homing instincts, crawling home across the highways of Minneapolis/St. Paul.

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