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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Earth Day, Crane Count, and Freshwater Turtles: this week in environmental news

Earth Day – April 22 (Earth Day Network): Happy Earth Day! We are now entering the 46th year of a movement that continues to inspire, challenge ideas, ignite passion, and motivate people to action. In 1970, the year of our first Earth Day, the movement gave voice to an emerging consciousness, channeling human energy toward environmental issues.

Annual Midwest Crane Count (International Crane Foundation): The Annual Midwest Crane Count is one of the largest citizen-based wildlife surveys in the world. One of the primary purposes of the Count is to monitor the abundance and distribution of cranes in the Upper Midwest. Each year in mid-April, over 2,000 volunteers travel to their local wetlands and favorite birding locations to participate in the Crane Count. This annual survey of Sandhill and Whooping Cranes spans over 90 counties in six states of the upper Midwest (Wisconsin and portions of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota).

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Sandhill Cranes, United States. Photo: John Ford

National Wildlife Refuges Help to Recover Threatened, Endangered Species in Michigan and Wisconsin (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Newsroom): The Fish and Wildlife Service’s Cooperative Recovery Initiative is working with the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge to help recover the threatened eastern prairie fringed orchid in Michigan. They will establish a population of threatened eastern prairie fringed orchid using plant orchid plugs in suitable habitat at the refuge. Staff will also manage an orchid population on private land near the refuge to harvest seed to supplement the planted plugs. Monitoring of the plugs and hand pollination of orchids on the private land will occur for three years, and results will be assessed to focus future recovery actions.

KBB & orchid

Karner blue butterfly and eastern prairie fringed orchid. Photos: USFWS.

Metal heads and body burdens: Lake Michigan turtles can’t get the lead out (Great Lakes Echo): Painted and snapping turtles accumulate heavy metals in their tissues, according to a recent study in Environmental Monitoring and Assessment. Some of these medals come from local industries. Bearing the burdens of these metals could shorten turtle life spans and make them less fertile, although these impacts on painted and snapping turtles have not yet been measured. In fact, freshwater turtles have been a bit neglected by research. More research is needed before an ongoing metal monitoring program can be instilled.

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