It takes a village to raise a turtle these days.
When 11 Blandings baby turtles — a state-listed endangered species — were recently released into the swampy waters of a Cook County forest protected by wetlands, they were encouraged by at least a dozen people who had a hand in any of the little cares. . its evolution or in the restoration of the turtle’s habitat.
“It’s very bittersweet,” said Tiffany Adams, chief aquarist at the Shedd Aquarium, where the children spent nearly their first year of life. “These are animals we keep since they are the size of a quarter. It’s like sending your kids to kindergarten.”
The collaborative effort to give youngsters a chance to fight for survival – dubbed a “scoop” – included participants from Shedd, the Cook County Forest Reserve, the US Department of Agriculture and the Great Audubon Lakes.
It’s the kind of holistic approach that agencies and institutions have to take to stabilize the remaining Blanding population, a species that was once common and has diminished in the face of habitat loss, poaching, and other human-caused pressures.
“I hope some of these guys can make it happen,” said Chris Anchor, a wildlife biologist with Cook County Forest Preserves.
Blandings are semi-aquatic freshwater turtles, which means they like swamps as opposed to rivers and lakes. The Chicago area was once home to vast swamps, but what remains of that habitat is now highly fragmented.
“We have a lot of isolated individuals (Blandings), waiting to die,” Anchor said.
The reserve where baby turtles are released is the only place in Cook County that is home to what Anchor considers a “healthy moderate size” Blanding population. The newcomers will increase the existing Blanding community by a third. (WTTW News is withholding the exact location at the request of the forest reserve area, due to poaching concerns.)
Alice Brandon, director of the area’s resource programs, said the site’s importance not only to turtles but other rare pollinators, birds and plants makes its management a top priority for the forest reserve area.
In the past two decades, wetlands across the Great Lakes have been blighted Invasive common reeds known as phragmites. The plant can reach 15 feet in height, blocking sunlight for blanding’s love of basking, and can crowd out all other plants aggressively. Brandon said the Phragmites’ ability to adapt to the introduction of road salt into what should be freshwater hydrology is just one of the ways they took hold of the indigenous population.
In the respective reserve, she mobilized teams of volunteers and trainees to catch up on the fragmites and other troublemakers. By manually removing the invading material, scheduling prescribed burns and highly targeted application of the herbicide, conservationists have created an environment in which native plants and wildlife such as Blanding’s turtles can thrive.
In contrast, constant monitoring of turtles, including analyzing blood for contaminants, provides insight into how the habitat is performing.
“It’s like looking at our vital health,” Anchor said.
This interdependence between plants and animals is something Brandon said cannot be emphasized enough. “These are complete systems,” she said. “You have to take care of the whole place.”
video: Blanding’s turtles are released into the Cook County Forest Preserve. (Patty Wheatley/WTTW News)
Conservationists are often asked: If a species cannot survive without human intervention, why not let nature take its course?
The answer, in the case of the Blanding’s turtle, is that there is nothing natural about its decline.
While surveying Cook County forests five years ago, Anchor found only three Blanding-breeding females. He said that otters – in and of themselves a rarity – later killed one of them.
Assuming a female lives to the old age of 15 or 20 — Blanding has a delayed sexual maturity — she would be hard-pressed to find a suitable nesting habitat, Anchor said. Blanding likes to lay its eggs in full sun, in bare soil that is either sandy or otherwise easy to dig, meaning that “high” habitat is as important to turtles as wetlands.
Turtles often cannot find both wetlands and highlands within a confined site due to fragmentation. This leads them to cross roads in search of a nesting area, which puts them on a collision course with cars. According to studies, road homicide is one of the highest causes of death among adults in Blanding, who generally suffer from so-called “unsustainable death levels”.
Even if the female overcomes all of these obstacles and manages to lay a group of eggs, she would likely devour the eggs of a raccoon or one of the other mid-level predators that humans have actually supported and allowed to do with our waste. Ankur explained that beating is unchecked by removing predators (other than ourselves) from the equation.
If humans stack the deck against blandings, the QSP is a little way to help tip the scales in the turtle’s favour.
Wildlife biologists monitor Blanding females in the greater Chicago area via radio transmitters that are epoxed onto turtle shells (also found in DuPage and Lake counties). active recovery plans).
If a routine examination reveals the presence of eggs, the female is monitored daily and eggs are collected or a safe nesting site is secured. The Shedd’s young are then raised with minimal human interaction.
They are fed live crickets, guppies, worms, and brine shrimp until they learn to hunt prey, and their diet also includes protein pellets to help them add bulk.
“We try to get it to a size that just doesn’t fit in a raccoon’s mouth,” said Matt O’Connor, chief veterinarian at Aquarium Shed.
In a recent edition in DuPage County, the Shedd team saw beginnings from previous years.
“So we know it works,” said marine biologist Steve Goering.
Back in Cook County, Goehring, O’Connor and Anchor cautiously put each of Blanding’s 11 children into the swamp.
Although they were born last August, most are already 3 years old, Angkor says. The only exception is baby “C6” (according to the numbered label on its cover), a life-size one-year-old “sand” litter.
Goehring said C6 was a bit of a bitch and a voracious eater, but he wasn’t a fan of protein pellets.
C6 is the last blanding to be released into the water. Goehring gives the turtle a gentle boost and watches it sink into the darkness. You pause on a rhythm to track the turtle’s progress, then turn around and get out of the swamp.
He. SheIt’s up to Blanding to take her from here.
“They’ll find out,” Goering said.
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