Species Spotlight: Blanding’s Turtle
Common name: Blanding’s Turtle
Latin name: Emydoidea blandingii
Status under SARA: Endangered; COSEWIC Assessment as of 2017: Endangered
Range: In Canada, two distinct distributions: Nova Scotia and Great Lakes/St. Lawrence (Ontario and Québec)
Life span: 75 years or more
Size: Shell size up to 27 cm in length
Population estimate: Less than 500 in Nova Scotia; 50,000 in Great Lakes/St. Lawrence
- The formation of the upper jaw and the turtle’s upward-curving mouth make it seem like this species is always ‘smiling.’
- The hinge at the front of the plastron allows some Blanding’s Turtles to completely close their shell after retracting their head and feet.
- Incubation temperature of the eggs will determine the sex of a Blanding’s Turtle: eggs incubated between 22°C and 28°C will result in males, while temperatures between 30°C and 32°C produce females.
- Blanding’s Turtles tend to return to the same overwintering habitats that largely remain a mystery to researchers.
The bright yellow throat and pointed facial features of the Blanding’s Turtle give it an unmistakable look among the many turtles that live in Canada’s rivers, lakes and ponds. The carapace (top shell) can reach a length of up to 27 cm and is normally dark brown or black, with tan or yellow spots or lines across it. The plastron (bottom shell) is normally bright yellow.
In Canada, distinct populations of the Blanding’s Turtle occur in southwestern Québec, southern Ontario and central-southwest Nova Scotia. The Canadian distributions account for 20% of the species’ global range.
In the United States, the Blanding’s Turtle range stretches from Nebraska to Ohio, extending north to Michigan and south to Missouri. As well, smaller populations can be found in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York.
During the summer months, this turtle can be found in many different types of freshwater areas, from lakes and slow-moving streams to marshes and swamps. Blanding’s Turtles prefer shallow water, rich in nutrients and dense with vegetation; adults will be found in open areas, while juveniles will congregate in heavily vegetated areas close to the water’s edge.
Although this species is considered to be primarily aquatic, members will spend a great deal of time on land basking and looking for nesting sites, travelling great distances while doing so.
Females reach maturity as late as the age of 25 and lay clutches of 3 to 19 eggs every 2 or 3 years, with the babies hatching in late September and into October.
Natural threats to this species include predators such as coyotes, skunks, foxes and raccoons raiding nesting sites, as full-grown turtles will deter predatory animals with their overall size and the strength of the carapace. Without sufficiently warm temperatures during the summer months, nests can also fail.
Increased human activity has fragmented and degraded the Blanding’s Turtle’s habitat. Wetland development reduces the amount of habitat available to the turtle and may change the water flows in the area. Increases in road construction and traffic circulation lead to higher chances that vehicles will strike turtles, severely injuring or killing them, or destroy nests that are often found in loose roadside gravel.
Human interference has a direct impact on the Blanding’s Turtle when individuals are collected in the wild for the pet trade. Often, adult females of breeding age are captured for sale, since they are the easiest to locate.
What is Being Done
The Blanding’s Turtle is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act, as well as populations that occur in Point Pelee, Georgian Bay Islands and Kejimkujik
national parks being protected under the Canada National Parks Act.
Provincially, the Blanding’s Turtle is protected under the Nova Scotia Endangered Species Act and the Ontario Provincial Policy Statement of the Planning Act.
In Nova Scotia, volunteers help to protect nests and researchers are rearing hatchlings in areas where the population of Blanding’s Turtles is declining. In Ontario there are many education and outreach programs, but no formal action plan for species protection and recovery exists.
What You Can Do
- Protect Canada’s waterways and habitats that the Blanding’s Turtle calls home.
- If purchasing a turtle as a pet, ask the store where it comes from and how it was raised. Never take a turtle from the wild as a pet.
- If you find a turtle on a busy pathway or road and believe it is in danger, move it to a safer location nearby. Lift the turtle by the side edges of its carapace and move it in the direction it is traveling.
- If you find an injured Blanding’s Turtle, get in contact with your local wildlife rescue or the Ontario Turtle Conservation Center.
Toronto Zoo, Adopt-A-Pond Program
Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, COSEWIC
Species at Risk Public Registry, SARA
Thanks to Nature Canada volunteer Michael Berrigan for contributing this profile.