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Shedd Aquarium Bolsters Blanding's Turtle Populations

Head-start program to raise and release the state-endangered Great Lakes turtle continues

September 30, 2021

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

Earlier this month, Shedd Aquarium released 24 state-endangered Blanding’s turtles (Emydoidea blandingii) in a protected site with Forest Preserve District of DuPage County (FPDDC), as well as welcomed 29 new hatchlings to the aquarium, to bolster native, wild populations. As part of the head-start effort, Shedd raises the turtles from baby hatchlings to yearlings to provide them a greater chance of survival in the wild.

Shedd’s animal care team rear the Blanding’s turtles behind-the-scenes providing food, water, shelter, and regular check-ups for at least a year. This species of turtles is an essential part of our local ecosystem and serves as environmental indicators, meaning their health reflects that of their environment. But the state-endangered turtle is also reliant on the head-start program, which celebrated its 25-year anniversary with FPDDC.

While guests can’t see the Blanding’s turtles at Shedd, they have an opportunity to experience, connect with and care about local wildlife or other turtle species by coming face-to-face with them at Shedd’s At Home on the Great Lakes exhibit. Or classrooms can explore turtles at Shedd with virtual field trips to step into the shoes of animal care staff as students learn what it takes to support excellent animal health care at the aquarium. To support this conservation effort, join the FPDDC’s adopt a turtle program, participate in Shedd’s action days to restore local habitats, become a member, or visit the aquarium.

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.

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. 

At Shedd, we believe that wildlife and wild places are worth protecting and saving. But it takes all of us to encourage decision-makers to advance innovative policies for aquatic animals and their habitats. Join Shedd Aquarium in supporting conservation legislation such as the INVEST in America Act (H.R. 3684), which includes the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act that aims to protect and restore wildlife corridors and provide funding to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions nationally—a common cause of fatality for turtles like Blanding’s turtles. Or sign-up and subscribe to Surge for more tangible and timely ways to act and advocate for our blue planet.

VISUALS: High-resolution images and b-roll are available to download:
Photo Credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Eva Ho
Video Credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Sam Cejtin