Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Endangered turtle making a slow and steady comeback in Lake County, ILL. – via Herp Digest

Here is an older Blanding's turtle that was recaptured, and to the left, you can see part of the transmitter used to track the turtle as part of a program with the Lake County Forest Preserves. (Lake County Forest Preserves)

Frank Abderholden, Chicago Sun-Times October, 27, 2017

Known to some as the smiling turtle, the Blanding's turtle actually has something to smile about because of the success of a seven-year effort by the Lake County Forest Preserves to support the reptile, which was declared endangered by the state in 2009. 

"I'm really excited about the point we are at," said Gary Glowacki, wildlife biologist for the Lake County Forest Preserves.

Local preservationists are very close to having a viable population that can reproduce on its own along the northern Lake Michigan shoreline area in Lake County on the border with Wisconsin, where thousands of acres between state and county preserves afford the turtle a place to thrive and room to roam.

"The bigger the area, the better," Glowacki said, since the turtle prefers to reside in mats of cattails and wetland until it is ready travel to a dry upland area to dig a hole and lay its eggs. Sometimes, the turtles cross the road to find a good nesting site, and roadkill takes its toll on turtles in general.

Illinois has 17 species of turtles, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). The Blanding turtle's range includes Canada south to into New England and west through the Great Lakes to Nebraska, Iowa and extreme northeastern Missouri, according to the forest preserve.

Before the area became farmland, the Blanding's turtle — named for American naturalist Dr. William Blanding — was probably common in the county, but the Chiwaukee Illinois Beach Lake Plain between Waukegan and southeast Wisconsin is the only area expansive enough for a large population to become viable.

Along with the IDNR, Lake County officials have been teaming with the McHenry County Conservation District, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy and the Illinois Nature Preserve Commission on the turtle project.

"We've been working on it for seven years, and survival rates are increasing. The next step is some of the turtles we put out will hit the reproductive stage," said Glowacki after recently picking up a batch of small turtles from McHenry, where they were incubated.

"We bring them back and put them in tubs and grow them so they have a better chance of surviving," he said. Predators like raccoons are trapped to reduce predation, though crows, chipmunks, foxes and skunks are also a threat.

The young turtles come in about the size of a quarter and leave when they're more the size of a cookie, three to six inches across. The restoration program has been supplementing the local population with about 100 turtles a year, although last year the number hit 178.

"We over-shot it a little bit," Glowacki said with a laugh.

This is one of the baby Blanding’s turtles that will over winter in a tub at a Lake County Forest Preserves facility. It's one of 112 baby turtles that will be released next year. (Lake County Forest Preserves)

The turtles are fed a kind of turtle Jell-O that has all the required nutrients. Later, they get time outdoors in pens where they will eat their natural prey, such as earthworms, small fish and crayfish, before being released to fend for themselves. They can live up to 80 years, and an adult sized turtle is the size of a helmet.

"Anything they can get their mouth on, they'll eat," Glowacki said. When staffers live-trap the turtles to count them and take blood and saliva or attach a transmitter, they put a sardine in the trap.

"They go after that," Glowacki said, "but when a crayfish is in the trap, attracted to the bait, a turtle will soon follow."
This year, the program received help from two interns from The Wildlife Epidemiology Lab within the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois. Their blog about taking blood samples and saliva swabs, among other things, is at

Glowacki said their quest for a viable population is closer than ever.

"Modeling supports that were not quite viable, but very very close," he said, noting the program has the largest population of Blanding's in the state. "It's not quite viable, but we are definitely headed in the right direction.”

The program is funded through the Preservation 
Foundation of the Lake County Forest Preserve, which has an Adopt a Turtle program where donors can name a turtle and get a behind-the-scenes tour for a $120 donation. Last year, the program exceeded its $12,000 goal. This year, the amount was about half that in mid-October, but officials said there was a big push in 2016.

Richard (Dick) Reilly, 70, who moved to Volo recently from Wauconda, has been a turtle champion to three specimens so far — Slick, Turbo and Bucky, as in the University of Wisconsin's Bucky Badger mascot. He first saw something about the program in the preserve's newsletter.

"It just clicked right away for me," he said. "We grew up being instilled as nature lovers by my parents. (We) had a lot of turtles and frogs around outside, and we learned to like them at a very early age.”

Reilly added that participating in the conservation effort "was a way to try and help turn things around. I'm all in."
Information on the Adopt-A-Turtle program can be found at the district's headquarters in Libertyville and online at Donations are being taken to be a turtle champion and be part of the tour in November.

"There's still a month left," Glowaski said in mid-October. "Hopefully, we can make (the fund-raising goal) in the end."

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