The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 13, 2009


Herpetologist helps fifth-graders raise endangered Blanding’s Turtles

This year, the fifth-grade class at the Carlisle Public School is raising Blanding’s Turtles. We are doing this because it gives the endangered turtles about a five-year jumpstart on life, and gives them a higher chance to survive. I am in Alan Ticotsky’s class. My class and Ms. Putnam’s class share two turtles, and the other dyad (two classes taught by Mrs. Katz, Mrs. Reinhard, and Mrs. Gleason) share two more. 
We will raise these endangered turtles until the end of the school year and then we will release them into Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge in Concord where they (hopefully) will live to be 75+ years old.

Reporter Claire Brandhorst (left) listens intently as ecological consultant Dr. Bryan Windmiller explains the defi ning characteristics of the Blanding’s Turtle to students in Mr. Ticotsky’s fi fth grade. (Photo by Alan Ticotsky)

The turtles that we’re raising have shell lengths of about four centimeters (1 1/2 inches) and weigh about 13 grams (.45 ounces). Our Blanding’s Turtles live in a 20-gallon tank with a fake plant, lots of water, a filter, three rocks, and a “sun.” The “sun” is a light that lets the turtles bask on the rocks, and gives them Vitamin D.

In our classroom, we have “jobs.” These jobs include pencil sharpener, sweeper, assistant and turtles. The kids who have the job of turtles are the ones who, until we switch jobs again in about two weeks, feed the turtles daily. The process of feeding them is this: after washing their hands, the two students get two tubs of about 80˚ F water. Next, they transport the animals from their tank to the tubs, one turtle to a tub, so that we can keep track of how much each turtle eats. Then, the students drop bits of turtle sticks (turtle food) into the tubs. Each turtle stick is about one centimeter long. They continue to put the food in until the turtles stop eating. They then record how many sticks the turtle has eaten and place the turtles back in the tank.

Why they’re endangered

  Blanding’s Turtles (Emydoidea blandingii) are one of America’s many endangered reptiles. They are endangered because of two things. First, their wetland habitat is being destroyed. Second, when the females are looking for a place to lay their eggs, which is normally in flat soil, such as gardens, they often must cross roads. Yes, we all know that “slow and steady wins the race,” but this is reality, so when the turtles are racing one-ton metal boxes on wheels, normally they lose.

Blanding’s Turtles live in swamps, marshes, lakes and ponds. They can be recognized by their bright yellow necks and, along with Box Turtles, their very high carapace (upper shell). The plastron (bottom of shell) is yellow, with symmetrical black blotches. Like Box Turtles, Blanding’s Turtles can close their plastrons, as if a hinge was attached, for better protection against predators.

That leads us to predators. Predators of the eggs and hatchlings of these reptiles include raccoons, skunks, foxes, snakes and wading birds. Once the turtles reach adulthood, there really aren’t any predators, aside from man-made vehicles. Along with Blanding’s Turtles being prey, they also, of course, are the predator in many situations. They prey on things like frogs, tadpoles, frog eggs, insect larvae, small fish and worms. Yum!

Interview with herpetologist

The person who brought us the turtles is Dr. Bryan Windmiller. I interviewed him, and here is our conversation put into questions and answers.

Dr. Bryan Windmiller points out the Blanding’s Turtle nest, surrounded by fencing for protection, at Great Meadows in Concord. Students had the opportunity to visit the site in September. (Photo by Alan Ticotsky)

Q. How long have you been a herpetologist?

A. I’ve been a herpetologist for about 22 years.

Q. Why did you choose herpetology?

A. That is a good question. I guess it’s because when I was a kid, I always loved 
picking up animals like frogs and snakes and turtles. With big animals and birds, you can’t always do that.

Q. In your opinion, what are some of the coolest animals that you have ever dealt with?

A. For a year, my family and I moved to Australia; there I loved dealing with big lizards, and here, definitely the huge snapping turtles.

Q. What should people do if they see a turtle nest or an endangered turtle?

A.  If people see a nest, mainly they should leave it alone, but if they want to do something extra, they can put a screen or fence up around it, then take the screen off after about one week. By then, the eggs normally lose their smell, so predators have a much harder time finding them. And if people see an endangered turtle, the first thing to do is take a picture of it so that we can identify it. If they need to, they can pick the turtle up, then report it to the Massachusetts Fishery and Wildlife Research Unit at 1-413-545-0398. ∆

The Mosquito thanks fifth-grader Claire Brandhorst for her article.


A year of activities with Dr. Bryan Windmiller

Early September

Classroom presentation on local endangered species and on Blanding’s Turtle program specifics


Outing to check on turtle nests and see turtle habitat at Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge in Concord

Late September

Turtles arrive in classroom. Set up aquaria and Internet spreadsheet for class data entry


Classroom presentation on turtle biology and review of turtle growth data


Classroom presentation on field methods for wildlife study

Late May

Field outing to Great Meadows to release classroom turtles, check turtle traps and radio-track turtles


Evening outing to radio-track nesting females and protect nests for the following year’s turtles

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito