Blanding’s turtles are medium-sized water turtles. They can be easily identified by the bright yellow undersides of their necks. The head, tail, and limbs are bluish-black. The upper shell (carapace) is usually black speckled with yellow, while the hinged lower shell (plastron) is yellow speckled with black or brown.
The carapace of a Blanding’s turtle measures 5-8 inches (12-20 cm) across.
In the wild, Blanding’s turtles will eat a variety of food, including crustaceans, snails, insects, berries, and grasses. At Cosley Zoo, the Blanding’s turtles are fed mixed greens, crickets, earthworms, fish, young mice, and a commercial turtle diet.
Mating usually occurs in the water during early spring. The turtles will travel up to 1½ miles from water onto land to nest. They usually return to the same nesting site each year. Once they deposit the eggs in the ground, the mothers return to the water, and the sun’s warmth incubates the clutch of 3 to 17 eggs. In 65 to 90 days, the eggs hatch. Hatchlings are about 1¼ inches long and range from dark gray to green in color. From the time they hatch, the young turtles are on their own. Like most turtles, Blanding’s turtles do not exhibit parental care towards their young.
The Blanding’s turtle is semi-aquatic. It prefers open, grassy marshes containing shallow water, but it will, on occasion, move to ground adjacent to water to forage or bask in the sun.
Blanding’s turtles have the potential to live 75-80 years. However, their juvenile mortality rate is extremely high due to predation on eggs and young turtles and increasing lack of suitable habitat. Only a small percentage of Blanding’s turtles in Illinois live to sexual maturity, which occurs at 15-20 years of age.
Turtles are important to the health of their ecosystems because they eat a wide variety of food, including both plant and animal material. Turtles, along with other reptiles, also serve as “environmental indicators”. They are particularly sensitive to changes in the quality of their surroundings and therefore their health reflects the health of their environment. In Illinois, the Blanding’s turtle is an endangered species due to predation, illegal collection for the pet trade, traffic, and habitat destruction. Cosley Zoo collaborates with The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County and several partner organizations on the Blanding’s Turtle Recovery Project, in which young turtles are reared in human care for release back into the wild.