Blanding's Turtle Sightings
/ Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt
When staff spotted a turtle with a sunny yellow throat, they knew it was something special—a Blanding’s turtle, one of Iowa’s threatened species. "I almost drove right past it, but something about its color, shell shape and movement struck me as being different from the myriad of painted turtles we typically see out here," said Doug Sheeley, Polk County Natural Resources Supervisor. Sheeley and Lael Neal, Natural Resource Worker, encountered the turtle at Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt in September. A few weeks later, another Blanding’s turtle was found about three miles from the first one. The last report of a Blanding’s turtle at Chichaqua was in 2007 when researchers from Drake University found a single individual during a box turtle study.
Blanding’s turtles need diverse, connected wetlands like those at Chichaqua to survive. They live in shallow marshes and, like other turtles, surface to bask on logs. Lucky wildlife watchers might glimpse their bright yellow neck and chin through binoculars, but Blanding’s turtles, shyer and rarer than painted turtles, quickly plop into the water. Up close, tiny flakes of yellow speckle the turtle’s dark shell and legs. Males wear a black "mustache." Adult turtles are typically eight to ten inches long and may weigh three pounds.
Blanding’s turtles spend more time on land than many other turtles. Both males and females journey from wetland to wetland, chomping crayfish, frogs, and snails. Unlike most Iowa turtles, Blanding’s turtles can swallow food out of water and eat earthworms, slugs, grass, and berries.
In June, females search on land for sandy nesting areas. They may travel more than half a mile to bury their eggs. The eggs and hatchlings encounter many obstacles before reaching adulthood. Raccoons, foxes, and skunks snack on the eggs, and fish, snakes, and birds eat young turtles.
Adults face few natural predators and can live more than 70 years. They defend themselves by shutting out danger. The turtles can pull in their heads and close the front of their shells with their hinged plastrons (A box turtle can close its shell completely.)
Blanding’s turtles are found in west-central Nebraska, across the Great Lakes Region, and into western Pennsylvania and New York. Most states in the turtles’ range list them as threatened or endangered.