Photo Credit: Jason Ross

The BCCD has confirmed that the State Endangered Blanding’s Turtle (Emyboidea blandingii) is present in Boone County. The initial discovery prompted BCCD staff to familiarize ourselves with the physical characteristics and habitat requirements of the Blanding’s Turtle, so we could search potential habitats for them and prioritize those habitats for management.

Blanding’s Turtles are long-lived, reaching an age of up to eighty years in the wild.  They are a medium-sized turtle, up to about 10 inches in length.  They have mottled, dome-shaped shells and distinct, yellow throats and chins.

Habitats: A semi-aquatic turtle, Blanding’s Turtles require an intact mosaic of habitats including marshes and upland areas for nesting and movement between habitats.      

Aquatic Habitats:  Blanding’s Turtles typically utilize marshes with abundant aquatic vegetation. From their emergence in mid-March, Blanding’s Turtles usually occupy ephemeral and semi-permanent marshes in search of food and mates. When the summer heat dries these habitats, they retreat to a deeper, more permanent marsh that serves as their ‘resident’ wetland. By October, Blanding’s Turtles seek refuge in a deep wetland for hibernation. Blanding’s Turtles hibernate underwater, so this wetland needs to be deep enough to prevent freezing completely.

Terrestrial Habitats: Blanding’s Turtles also utilize upland ground. From mid-May to early June, gravid (or pregnant) females venture upland from marshes to begin their nesting forays. These females will travel as far as half a mile from a wetland to find a suitable location to excavate a nest and deposit their eggs. Preferred nesting grounds are typically in sparsely-vegetated, well-drained soils, such as a sandy prairie. These conditions provide relative ease in excavating the nest, and ample sunlight to warm the soil and incubate the eggs. Given the destruction of most of these habitats, female Blanding’s Turtles can be opportunistic nesters, often utilizing mowed lawns and trails, roadsides, railroad embankments, and agricultural fields.

Habitats such as wetlands, upland nesting areas, and all the land connecting them comprise the ‘core habitats’ of a Blanding’s Turtle population. Blanding’s Turtles require these habitats to be intact to ensure their health and survival. Unfortunately, as evident in their state-listed status, this is rarely the case.

Threats: The destruction and fragmentation of Blanding’s Turtles’ core habitats is an obvious factor contributing to their decline. Often, habitat destruction has displaced members of a population. This leaves adults from a once-viable population to finish their life cycle with little hope of finding mates and contributing to the adult population. Also, the risk of mortality to adult Blanding’s Turtles is distinct given the female Blanding’s penchant for long-range terrestrial movement during nesting season. Females are continually at risk during these movements from a range of vehicles along roadways and in agricultural fields. Blanding’s Turtles also have a delayed sexual maturation; they don’t become reproductively viable until between 12 and 14 years of age. Therefore, they aren’t as able to rebound from losses to the adult populations as other turtle species.

The odds are stacked against the Blanding’s Turtle, giving the species State Endangered status. Elsewhere in the Wildlife Monitoring section, you’ll find information on how the BCCD monitors this declining species and uses our findings to identify and protect their habitats in Boone County.