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24 Endangered Turtle Hatchlings Arrive at Shedd to Bolster Wild Populations

The Blanding’s turtle hatchlings are reared behind-the-scenes for one year before their eventual release

September 18, 2020

Two newly hatched Blanding's turtles fit easily in the palm of a veterinarian's hand.

Shedd Aquarium recently welcomed 24 Blanding’s turtle hatchlings as part of an ongoing partnership with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. This is the third year that Shedd is participating in the Forest Preserve District’s head-start program, which focuses on safely raising and releasing young turtles to bolster wild, native populations. The new arrivals will remain in the aquarium’s care for one year until they reach the appropriate size and weight to be reintroduced to their natural habitat with a greater chance of survival at a protected site in a DuPage forest preserve.

The animal care team at Shedd Aquarium will rear the hatchlings behind-the-scenes, which involves taking regular measurements to monitor growth, feeding them a variety of live foods that they will need to learn to catch in preparation for their eventual release, and much more. But as best practice, contact is kept to a minimum, so the turtles don’t imprint or become habituated to humans.

“With our experience caring for 26 species of turtles onsite, we were well-positioned to join the Forest Preserve District’s collaborative recovery effort for this endangered species,” said Dr. Matt O’Connor, senior staff veterinarian at Shedd Aquarium.

Turtle populations, including local Blanding’s turtles, are declining rapidly due to habitat loss, pet trade and predation, which has led to the reptiles facing one of the highest extinction risks of any sizeable vertebrate group. While guests can’t see these Blanding’s turtle hatchlings at the aquarium, there are plenty of turtles viewable at Shedd, including a representative of the species in the Great Lakes Gallery, and guests can support this conservation effort by planning a visit to come eye-to-eye with turtles from around the world. Shedd Aquarium is open and we look forward to welcoming our members and guests back with stringent measures in place to create a safe and enriching experience with the aquatic animal world. In addition, joining the Forest Preserve District’s adopt a turtle program, participating in Shedd’s virtual programs, becoming a member, raising your voice for federal support for aquariums, or donating are all ways to support this effort.

BACKGROUND: Known for their distinctive yellow throat and chin, as well as their apparent permanent “smile,” Blanding’s turtles are an iconic local species found in the Great Lakes. They are an essential part of our local ecosystem, and serve as environmental indicators, meaning their health reflects that of their environment.  

The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County launched the region’s first Blanding’s turtle head-start program in 1996 after research indicated that the local population was comprised of mostly adults with few juveniles present. Shedd Aquarium joined as a partner in 2018. Head-start programs are a specific type of conservation effort by which animals are raised and rehabilitated in accredited zoos or aquariums and later reintroduced/released into their natural habitats. It is used to stabilize, reestablish, or increase animal populations that have suffered significant declines. Blanding's turtles are but one example of Shedd Aquarium's long-standing commitment to restore and protect the habitat of our region's threatened and endangered wildlife. These types of partnerships are advancing the core principles of the global thirty by thirty initiative, by protecting and restoring wildlife habitat we are able to provide safe homes for our region's amazing wildlife from state-endangered Blanding's turtle to plovers.

VISUALS: High resolution photos of the Blanding’s turtles at Shedd are available for download:
Photo credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez