Blanding’s Turtles are a medium sized turtle- the adult carapace (top shell) length is generally between 20 to 23 cm. Their key identifying feature is the domed “army helmet” carapace and bright yellow chin and throat. The carapace colour ranges from black to dark brown, and has yellow-brown flecks on it. Their plastron (bottom shell) is also very distinctive and is yellow in colour with black blotches along the outer edges. Each Blanding’s Turtle has distinctive black blotches that can be used to identify each individual turtle!
Blanding’s Turtles are omnivores and commonly eat crayfish, worms, leeches, snails, slugs, fish, insects, tadpoles, frogs, aquatic vegetation (submergent vegetation and algae), and terrestrial plants. They can forage both on land and in the water, and generally prefer small vernal pool habitats since they have a wide variety of food sources in a concentrated area. Juveniles prefer to forage in wetlands with thick vegetation in order to hide and protect themselves from predators.
Biology and Behaviour:
Blanding’s Turtles require habitats that provide a number of basking sites and food sources. Their preferred temperature is 22.5°C for males and 24.8°C for females, and they will often be seen basking on warm sunny days to maintain their preferred temperatures. The end of April and May are the highest basking activity months, which is when they come out of overwintering sites and water temperature is still low. During this time they will often bask at the water's surface which also gives them a chance to forage In addition to aquatic basking (on submerged logs/rocks, in muskrat and beaver lodges, in bog mats or shallow water) they will also sometimes bask on open shoreline areas with full or partial sunlight. Blanding's regularly move between different aquatic and terrestrial habitat types to access recurrently or seasonally required resources (i.e. nesting and overwintering sites, food sources). Home ranges in Ontario and Quebec tend to be between 12 and 60 hectares.
After emerging from hibernation under the water of wetlands, ponds, and rivers, Blanding’s Turtles will spend some time warming up and eating before mating season, which is generally late spring depending on the weather. Female turtles will begin searching for places to nest in mid-May to the beginning of June in Ontario. This is the time of the year when all turtles are most active on and around roads, since they often use gravel and sand road shoulders to nest. Blanding’s Turtles will dig a small hole and create a cavern for her eggs to be stored in until they hatch in late August or September. They will spend hours making the perfect nest, and cover it back up until it is almost invisible. Blanding’s Turtles will lay between 10-26 oval-shaped eggs in one nest. Turtles will prepare for hibernation by heading to their overwintering sites and settling down once the weather turns cool.
Known mammalian predators of nests and the turtles in Canada are the American mink, black bear, coyote, raccoon, red fox, river otter, striped skunk, opossum, and short tailed shrew. However, raccoons and foxes are the biggest threats for nest predation. Hatchlings and small juveniles are susceptible to predation by American Kestrel, crows, eastern chipmunk, northern short tailed shrew, red squirrel, fish, frogs, snakes and wading birds.
- Blanding’s Turtles are most often confused with Painted Turtles, since they both have a dark shell. However, Painted Turtles have a flat top shell and their chin and neck have yellow and red lines, not solid yellow.
- Spotted Turtles are rare, but they also have yellow spots on their carapace (top shell). However, Spotted Turtles have distinct bright yellow polka dots and yellow spots on their head and chin, instead of a solid yellow chin and faint yellow flecks on the carapace
- Wood Turtles may be confused since they have orange on chin and throat, while Blanding’s Turtles have yellow. However, Wood Turtles are extremely uncommon and sightings are rare
Conservation and recovery strategies:
Blanding’s Turtles have been identified as an important indicator species – if they are doing well, their habitat is also likely doing well. As a species that makes use of many different types of wetlands, as well as terrestrial habitat and corridors, they are a valuable indicator of the health of aquatic habitats and surrounding terrestrial areas. They also eat dead and decaying animals on the water bottom and help keep aquatic habitats clean.
As a threatened species, the Government of Ontario has taken steps to protect these turtles and their habitats where there have been confirmed sightings. However, this alone will not be enough to save the species, which is why organizations such as The Land Between have taken steps further to save the population. Local organizations that are dedicated to protecting turtles are taking measures to protect them like being present on busy roads during nesting season to help turtles cross safely, and some organizations like The Land Between also have the ability to excavate nests and incubate eggs until they hatch and are ready to be released back where they were found. Peterborough also has Ontario’s only turtle hospital- The Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre, where injured turtles can be taken to be rehabilitated and released.
COSEWIC. 2016. COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Blanding’s Turtle Emydoidea blandingii Nova Scotia population Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. 110 pp.https://wildlife-species.canada.ca/species-risk-registry/virtual_sara/files/cosewic/sr_Blanding%E2%80%99s%20Turtle_2016_e.pdf
COSSARO. 2017. Ontario Species at Risk Evaluation Report for Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii). Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario (COSSARO). Ottawa. 16pp. http://cossaroagency.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Accessible_COSSAROEvaluation_BlandingsTurtle_FINAL_13MAR2018.pdf
Environment Canada. 2016. Recovery Strategy for the Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii), Great Lakes / St. Lawrence population, in Canada [Proposed]. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Environment Canada, Ottawa. vii+ 49 pp. https://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/virtual_sara/files/plans/rs_blandings_turtle_e_proposed.pdf
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