Turtle Champions

Post by Allison Frederick

109 adopted turtles!

bltu-20161104-004Our inaugural campaign to enhance conservation efforts and further protect an endangered species was a huge success. Donations poured in from Lake County and beyond (as far away as California!) to adopt baby Blanding’s turtles, allowing us to continue our head-starting program and field work next summer.

In July 2016 the adopted turtles began to hatch. After a few months of care in our conservation facility (fondly referred to by staff as the “turtle building”), it was time to measure growth rates and mark each carapace (top shell). We mark each turtle with a unique code that allows our wildlife biologists to identify individuals in the facility, and later as we collect data after their release into the wild.

Here is an illustration of our marking system:

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Therefore, this fella would be 28:

hatchling-marking

Once marked, we took photos of each hatchling’s carapace and plastron (bottom shell). Each plastron has a unique pattern, like a fingerprint. Though, the pattern becomes more clear as the turtle reaches its first birthday. We will take plastron photos again before the turtles are released. These visuals help us confirm the identity of a turtle that is found again during monitoring efforts.

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Taking photos of a young turtle’s top and bottom shell is easier said than done.

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Come back, Zadie!

These hatchlings will be held in captivity for a few more months—beyond the point of extreme predation by other animals, such as raccoons and skunks. Next spring, we will release the turtles into their natural habitat.

A head-starting program is labor-intensive, but well worth the effort. Since 2004, 855 individual turtles have been tracked, marked and documented in two sites within a larger coastal area of Lake Michigan in northeastern Illinois. That number includes 538 turtles that were released as part of our head-starting program. The population is growing, and we’re seeing more juvenile turtles than in the past.

Ultimately we want a more hands-off approach. We’re eager for the day when our data show far more wild-born turtles than those that we provided with a head-start.

In the meantime, anyone excited to become a Turtle Champion can support the Lake County Forest Preserves and The Preservation Foundation of the Lake County Forest Preserves Adopt-a-Turtle program. Any donation will help a baby Blanding’s turtle thrive.

And, a HUGE thank you to all those who have already become Turtle Champions. We are eager to meet you during the upcoming behind-the-scenes tour!

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