Protecting Michigan Turtles

By Abby Pointer, MNA Intern

In the state of Michigan we are lucky to be the home of multiple turtle species, from the common snapping turtle to the red-eared slider. With such a diverse potential for habitat, turtles can live in woodlands, grasslands, lakes, rivers, wetlands, and even cities. Unfortunately, some turtles with more specific needs are suffering from habitat destruction and loss, making their survival a bit more difficult. Three of these critters are species of concern, which dictates that they are in need of specific conservation actions, and one species is currently threatened, which is a warning that it is on the brink of becoming endangered. An important way to help conserve these turtles is education, so let’s take a minute to learn how to identify these turtles and their habitat.

eastern box turtle

Eastern box turtle

The first of the four is the eastern box turtle, one of the three species of special concern. Recognized by a helmet-shaped shell with yellow and orange blotches, the eastern box turtle prefers moist, deciduous woodlands with sandy soils and ravines or slopes. Historically, they have been common in eastern Lake Michigan and western Lake Erie woodlands but numbers are steadily decreasing.




Blanding’s turtle

Blanding’s turtle, on the other hand, prefers more wetland habitat, a habitat itself that is in need of conservation effort. These turtles can be found in shallow weedy waters of wetlands, marshes, and swamps. Their shell is tall, domed, and of darker coloration. The rest of the skin is also darker, and the under part of its body and neck is a bright yellow color.


wood turtle

Wood turtle

The Wood turtle prefers low disturbance, and because of that the species is now quite uncommon in the Great Lakes region. For most of the year, they reside in sandy bottom streams or rivers, but are terrestrial in the summer. Shells of wood turtles are brown or grayish brown, that sits low and central on their back. Their head, legs and tail are typically black while the softer parts of their body are a yellow color.


While the previous three turtles were species of special concern, the Spotted turtle is the one threatened turtle in Michigan. These turtles live in clear shallow water with mucky bottoms and much vegetation. Their populations are typically isolated and are found surrounded by areas of unsuitable habitat, and are unfortunately quite rare in the Great Lakes region. These turtles, like their name, are distinguished by small bright yellow spots on their dark colored shell.


Spotted turtle

Many of the turtles mentioned above are threatened by wetland drainage and other types of disturbance such as pollution, nest predation, and over-harvest. One of the best ways you can help protect these species is by helping joining a conservation organization, such as the Michigan Nature Association, that supports efforts to protect their depleting habitat. Learn more about protecting and identifying your local turtles by visiting


Rare Turtles, Go Green Trikes and the Keystone Pipeline: This Week in Environmental News

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA intern

Every Friday, MNA gathers news related to the environment from around the state and country. Here are a few highlights from what happened this week in environmental news:

The blanding's turtle has been a threatened species in Ontario since 2004. Photo by Shannon Keith via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services

The Blanding’s turtle has been a threatened species in Ontario since 2004. Photo by Shannon Keith via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services

Turtles vs. turbines (Great Lakes Echo): The Ontario Divisional Court has ruled in favor of a wind turbine project that put groups at odds with each other. The opposing groups are for alternative energy and protecting a threatened turtle species and fragile soil. There are nine turbines and access roads planned. if the turbines go in, then the habitat will be destroyed.

National Arbor Day Tree Planting to take place on April 25 (MSU Today): This year marks the 142nd anniversary of Arbor Day. To celebrate, Michigan State University is planting a 15-foot-tall Norway spruce outside the MSU Union at noon on Friday, April 25. The tree will replace a historic Norway spruce originally planted in 1865 that was lost during a windstorm last year.

Earth Day 2014 is launch date for environmentally friendly Go Green Trikes (mlive): On Earth Day, a business launched called Go Green Trikes, which is a company looking to deliver goods and services around Lansing. The bikes, called ELF, are large, orange, three-wheeled bikes that come complete with turn signals, break lights, and are battery-powered by a large solar panel.

Views You Can Use: Keystone XL Gets Put on a Shelf (US News): The Obama administration announced Friday that it will delay making a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. The party is split on the issue, with Democrats from states with large oil economics calling for approval, but others are rejecting it for environmental reasons. The pipeline would run 1,700 miles from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

State, university officials and entrepreneurs waiting for drone industry take-off (Great Lakes Echo): The status of using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles commercially is banned by the FAA and it remains in effect until the case is ruled on again. Though it is against the rules, there are a number of companies that continue to use the drones for a variety of reasons, including photography and land management. It has been five years since officials began writing drone usage laws and they still are not finalized.

Petition Aims to Protect Amphibians and Reptiles

By Chelsea Richardson

A baby spotted turtle at an MNA sanctuary

A baby spotted turtle at one of MNA’s nature sanctuaries. Photo: Amanda Orban

Sometimes we are so worried about larger animals, we forget about the little guys. Fifty-three of our nation’s reptiles and amphibians are in danger of becoming extinct because of threats to their environment including toxins, global warming, nonnative predators, overcollection, habitat destruction and disease.

On July 11, The Center for Biological Diversity made a huge move to protect amphibians and reptiles in the United States. The petition asks the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to protect six turtles, seven snakes, two toads, four frogs, 10 lizards and 24 salamanders.

Scientists estimate that about 25 percent of the nation’s amphibians and reptiles are at risk of extinction, yet only 58 of the approximately 1,400 U.S. species protected under the Endangered Species Act are amphibians and reptiles. The animals included in the July 11 petition will reap lifesaving benefits from the Act, which has a 99 percent success rate at staving off extinction for species under its care.

In Michigan there are three turtles included in the petition; the spotted turtle, the wood turtle and the Blanding’s turtle. The spotted turtle’s loss of habitat is the main cause for the endangered listing for this species. This species is also very sensitive to pollution and toxins and disappears rapidly with the loss of water quality.  Public education is necessary to inform people that populations are declining and efforts should be made to protect this turtle. Habitat and water quality should be monitored in ponds and other water bodies where known populations of spotted turtles live. The spotted turtle is small and has gray to black skin color. Its upper shell is smooth and has up to 100 yellow spots. Continue reading