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

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.

michiganspotted-turtle

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 www.herpman.com.

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Give to Michigan Species this Holiday Season!

Give to Michigan Species Image

This holiday season why not Give to Turtles or other special animals found in Michigan? You can show your support with a $10 gift to the Michigan Nature Association. In return, we’ll send you a certificate identifying the holder (add your name or someone on your gift list) as a proud sponsor of Michigan nature. The certificate, 8 ½” by 11” and suitable for framing, includes a photo of an important animal found in Michigan and is accompanied by a fact sheet with great information about that species.

Order online for the holidays by December 18 at http://michigannature.iescentral.com/donations/Give-to-Michigan-Animals or pay by mail and send in this order form. Choose the animal(s) you would like on the order form or let us choose for you. Order forms can be mailed to the MNA office or emailed to Jess at jfoxen@michigannature.org.

Makes a great stocking stuffer for kids, grandkids, and nature lovers of all ages! Proceeds support MNA’s mission to protect rare, threatened and endangered species in Michigan.

Animals to choose from:

Karner blue butterfly
Karner Blue Butterfly


Monarch Butterfly

Box Turtle
Eastern Box Turtle

moose
Moose

lake sturgeon
Lake Sturgeon

rattlesnake
Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake

Species Spotlight: Eastern Box Turtle

As Michigan’s only true terrestrial turtle, the Eastern box turtle might often be mistaken for a small tortoise. It is one of four box turtle species native to the United States. Though an uncommon find, it ranges throughout Michigan’s lower peninsula. It spends its life in small patches of open woodlands, sometimes bordering open fields or wetland. Throughout its life, the Eastern box turtle remains small- to mid-size, growing between 4-8 inches in length. It can be extremely long-lived – occasionally over a century.

Their unique hinged shell Box Turtleallows them to retract their head, tail, legs and arms for full protection. Males and females can be most readily distinguished by the color of their eyes. While males often have red eyes, females have yellow to match the vivid markings on their dark carapaces and bodies. They reach sexual maturity at about 10 years of age. Mature females lay between 3-8 eggs per clutch, and breed at most once per year. During winter, they burrow into mud or bury themselves beneath leaf litter for warmth and camouflage.

Like most turtle species, the Eastern box is an opportunistic omnivore. This means it will eat just about anything food-like that it comes across, including insects, worms, grasses, fruit, mushrooms, flowers, and even carrion and garbage.

Because this species is long-lived and slow to breed, populations can be difficult to exact. However, the species has gained status as Special Concern in the state of Michigan. Habitat loss and fragmentation are primary concerns to populations, as urban and agricultural development extend further into their range and roads cut through much of what is left. If you come across a turtle you suspect to be an Eastern box turtle, admire it from a comfortable distance. If the turtle is found on or near a road, escort it back to safety first!