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While most animals that hibernate choose to do so in deep caves and underground burrows, there is a native species that prefers the bottoms of lakes, marshes and wetlands.
The Blanding’s turtle hibernates completely underwater from late October or early November until the early spring. The cold-blooded reptile only needs to burrow itself in cold, muddy bottoms to stay warm. Its metabolism also slows so little oxygen is needed and it doesn't have to search for food. Unlike most turtles, the Blanding's is quite happy in the cold water; on occasion it is seen slowly swimming underneath the ice in areas where they winter - like the Great Lakes. These turtles are also present in some of our preserves, such as Merry Lea and Douglass Woods.
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Sometimes confused with box turtles, the Blanding’s turtle is distinguished from other native turtles by its bright yellow chin and throat. Its shell, head and legs are dark in color, but mottled with yellow or light-colored dots. As a semi-aquatic species, the turtle spends significant time in the water and on the land. It dwells underwater during hibernation as well as to eat and mate. It will, however, return to land to nest and move from one body of water to another.
Protecting the Blanding's Turtle
The Blanding's turtle is a gentle and timid creature that will either dive in a nearby body of water and remain submerged for hours, or pull itself into its shell when faced by predators. These defense mechanisms may work against its natural predators, but they unfortunately do not protect it from its biggest threat - man.
As a nomadic species, the shy turtle will wander and cross roads to get from one body of water to another. Road mortality is high. The Nature Conservancy's Maine Chapter is attemping to alleviate this issue by adding "Turtle Crossing" signs to various roads in the state that are popular pathways for turtles. But man contributes to other ways the turtle is battling for its existence. As with many other wetland species, habitat destruction and fragmentation is their main threat. As a state-endangered species, the Blanding’s turtle’s wetland habitats, terrestrial nesting sites and the corridors in which they move between should be considered in land development plans.
Blanding's turtle is also vulnerable because they tend to reproduce late in life. Females become sexually mature around eighteen years old while males mature around twelve. Hatchlings also have a low survival rates due to the appetites of nearby raccoons, foxes and skunks. If the hatchling can become an adult and survive within its habitat, the Blanding's turtle can live as long as 70+ years!
Blanding's Turtle Quick Facts
- Scientific name: Emydoidea blandingii
- Size: medium-sized; anywhere from 5 - 10 inches long
- Physical characteristics: bright yellow chin and throat; carapace, or upper shell, is domed and speckled with yellow or light-colored flecks or streaks
- Range: throughout eastern and upper midwestern states in the US
- Habitat: semi-aquatic; shallow lakes, ponds, wetlands; also seen in forests, woodlands
- Diet: mostly carnivorous; snails, insects, frogs, crayfish; feed mostly underwater
- Lifespan: could live up to 70 years
- Predators: raccoons, foxes and owls are their main predators in Indiana
- Conservation status: endangered in Indiana; vulnerable in other regions