Blanding's turtles "head-started" at Detroit Zoo released into native habitat

ROYAL OAK, Mich., September 19, 2012 – The nomadic tendencies of the Blanding's turtle prompted the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) to partner in a conservation project in 2011 for the Michigan reptile – and now those efforts are paying off.

The Blanding's turtle habitually travels up to a mile from its aquatic habitat to lay its eggs, leaving the nest vulnerable to predators when it returns to the water. In an endeavor to protect nests at the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Saginaw, Mich., from predation by raccoons, 63 eggs were collected, incubated and brought to the Detroit Zoo last fall to begin a nurturing process called "head-starting".

The DZS recently released 12 of the hatchlings into their native habitat at the Shiawassee NWR. Students from University of Michigan-Flint are conducting a tracking study on the hatchlings to determine habitat use, dispersion and survivability following the release of a head-started turtle.

"We knew early this year that we were going to be releasing some of the hatchlings specifically for the radio tracking project, but did not know how many at that time. It turns out we were able to provide twelve of them as they had grown to the appropriate size to affix the transmitters to their shells," said DZS Curator of Reptiles Jeff Jundt.

The students will track the turtles until they go into hibernation at Shiawassee NWR this fall and will pick the project back up in the spring when they emerge. The study will continue for another month before the turtles are caught a final time and the transmitters removed. Throughout the study, the students will catch the animals periodically and weigh and measure them to see what sort of growth is occurring after their release.

The DZS continues to head-start the remaining hatchlings and will return them to the Shiawassee NWR in the spring of 2013, where they can live to be 50-60 years old.

Found throughout the Midwest, the Blanding's turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) has a black, speckled, high-domed shell that reaches 9-11 inches in length. Its underside and lower jaw are bright yellow, making the reptile easy to recognize. The shape of its jawline causes the turtle to appear as if it is smiling.