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Shedd Aquarium Gives Blanding's Turtles a Head-Start with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County

September 12, 2019

A young Blanding's turtle, still with yellow dots on its black shell, peers up at the camera as it climbs out of the water in its mossy habitat.

Last week, Shedd Aquarium released 23 state-endangered Blanding’s turtles (Emydoidea blandingii) in a protected site at a suburban forest preserve to complete its first year of partnership in a long-running head-start program launched by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County in 1996. Shedd raised the turtles from baby hatchlings to one-year-old juveniles, providing husbandry and veterinary care until they reached the appropriate size and weight to be reintroduced to their natural habitat with a greater chance of survival. Blanding’s turtles, known for their distinctive yellow throat and chin as well as their apparent permanent “smile,” are an important local species that serve as an environmental indicator, meaning their health reflects that of their environment.

In preparation for the release, the aquarium’s veterinary technicians and an ecologist with the Forest Preserve District took final weights and measurements and microchipped the turtles for identification purposes. Wearing chest-high waders, the group then trekked into wetlands and marshes surrounded with reeds along the edge to release the semi-aquatic turtles back into their natural habitat with plenty of camouflage from predators. Many turtles plunged into the water, while others took a rest on floating branches.

In the next week, the animal care team at Shedd Aquarium will start the year-long process again by welcoming another two dozen hatchlings to The A. Watson Armour III Center for Aquatic Animal Health and Welfare. The aquarium’s goal is to continue to contribute to local conservation and restoration efforts that help revitalize aquatic ecosystems.

A Blanding's turtle is held by a member of Shedd's Animal Response Team.

Dr. Matt O'Connor holds a Blanding's turtle up to look at it

A blandings turtle is released into a pond in the wild.

After reintroduction into the wild, this species needs help from all Illinois residents. In addition to pressures from predation, the populations face threats by human causes like loss of habitat and roadside mortalities. As a result of drastic population decline, Blanding’s turtles were listed as an endangered species under the Illinois Endangered Species Protection Act, protections that are vital for their long-term survival. To show support for the Illinois Endangered Species Protection Act, Illinois residents can sign a petition at

BACKGROUND: Shedd Aquarium joined the local effort to benefit state-endangered Blanding’s turtles in 2018, welcoming nearly two dozen turtle hatchlings to the onsite animal hospital behind-the-scenes as part of a partnership with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.

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Photo Credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez
Video Credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Sam Cejtin