So look what I found the other day –
A Blandings turtle! (Emydoidea blandingii)
Only the second time I’ve ever seen or photographed one. I found her (it’s probably a nesting female) in the Necedah Wildlife Refuge about 2 hours south of me here in Wisconsin. Like my Wood Turtle post, this one will have only one photo. I was on a Field Trip with the NRF and didn’t have time to linger. Everyone else crowded around her with their cell phones so I waited to get down on one knee with my 100-400mm zoom. Despite the very harsh sunlight, I like this shot. She almost seems to be smiling and she wasn’t too spooked to stretch out that lovely, yellow neck! Unlike the one I photographed in New Hampshire that kept its head tucked the whole time. I also liked the position of her feet here compared to the other shots I have. She was edging off the path and into the undergrowth, probably to lay her eggs. She might be in her 20s as they take about that many years to be mature enough to mate. This makes them the slowest turtle in Wisconsin to reach maturity.
Once they do, the males roam far and wide in search of mates, while the females stick close to where they overwintered (underwater) and wait for them to show up. Then she will move if there isn’t an acceptable nesting site near to her. She’s also looking for good foraging and warmer waters so she will produce healthy eggs. In general, Blanding’s turtles are pretty active and can range over miles to find better food sources.
According to the DNR, they prefer sandy soil and will lay anywhere from 3-22 eggs in one clutch. Depending on when they were laid, the hatchlings emerge from about mid-August to mid-October. A nest temperature of 77º F or lower will produce all males and 86º F or higher all females. They are omnivorous and will take earthworms and various bugs, crayfish and small fish like minnows and some seeds as well.
They like shallow, slow-moving water with lots of vegetation. Mesic prairies, small ponds, marshes and even slow, winding rivers are host to them. If you find big marshes or flowages near active rivers, you’ll probably find Blandings. Both the youngsters and the older animals prefer shallow water, but the adults dive deeper for winter brumation (hibernation, but specific to reptiles). You can find them basking in the sun on whatever is handy, but if you find one on the move, like I did here, it’s probably for nesting, moving to a new territory or finding a place to overwinter.
Like pretty much everything, these turtles are under threat because of habitat loss due to humans. There is some nest predation (I’m looking at you raccoons!) and of course people hit them with cars. I didn’t see any reference to poaching for the pet trade with this species. Things like an increase in vegetation like small trees and bushes can cause temperatures to be so cool as to only produce a male population. The opposite also happens when temperatures rise enough to only produce females. Wetlands management can also have an effect during their brumation periods – specifically drawdowns that drastically lower the water levels. In Wisconsin they are classified as a species of Special Concern and it looks like there is a specific set of guidelines in place for managing DNR land to protect and enhance this species’ survival.
So that’s my Blandings’ turtle report. Another rarity and one more in the list of 11 native turtles we have here in the state. I hope she had a successful nesting season and will live to do it again next year!