Distribution and Habitat Use by Blanding's Turtles in Ohio

The Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) is a moderately sized (<28 cm) freshwater turtle that is most easily identified by its characteristic bright yellow neck.  The species ranges throughout the Great Lakes region and westward into Nebraska. 

In Ohio, the Blanding’s Turtle is known only from the Lake Erie drainage, with records extending as far south as four counties inland from Lake Erie. 

Habitats utilized by the species include lakes, ponds, marshes, bogs, swamps, creeks, ditches, wet prairies, and sloughs.  The use of multiple aquatic habitats throughout the year is well documented, and turtles may make long over-land migrations to reach isolated wetlands or travel through ditches and channels. 

Activity in Ohio usually commences in late March - April and ends in October - November.  Nesting activity peaks in early June and may be preceded by long-distance movements of females to suitable upland nesting sites.  Turtles may overwinter in aquatic or terrestrial habitats and may be active during warmer days in the winter. 

Blanding’s Turtles are widely considered to be in decline throughout their range.  Causes of the declines vary by site, but most often include habitat destruction, road mortality, increased egg and neonate predation, and poaching. 

A suite of life-history characteristics make Blanding’s Turtles especially prone to endangerment, including: long life span (60+ years); delayed sexual maturity (up to18 years); low fecundity; and propensity to travel widely.  Throughout the Midwest, most states have listed the Blanding’s Turtle as either threatened or endangered.  In Ohio, the species is currently listed as threatened by the ODNR, Division of Wildlife.

In 2010, Kent Bekker and I tracked Blanding's Turtles in the Oak Openings Region of Ohio using automated GPS dataloggers attached to the carapace (top of the shell) of five female turtles.  Our goal was to investigate whether this novel technique (for a freshwater turtle) would be effective for determining habitat use and nesting sites.

GPS data loggers from Telemetry Solutions were programmed to come on and attempt a fix 20 times per day during the nesting season, with a concentration in the evening hours when most nesting occurs.  Outside of the nesting season, fixes were attempted 6 times per day. 

In 2011, I am beginning a statewide survey of the distribution of the Blanding's Turtle, with Jim Spetz.  We will be visiting areas of historical occurrence as well as additional locales with anecdotal observations or habitat that might support populations that have yet to be documented. 

This project is supported by the Ohio Division of Wildlife with funds donated through the Wildlife Diversity and Endangered Species Program, and through sales of the Wildlife Legacy Stamps.

In 2011, I will also be investigating the movements and habitat use of Blanding's Turtles in an area of active twigrush wet prairie restoration in the Oak Openings Region of Ohio.  We will once again be utilizing the GPS pods to track this species and also Spotted Turtles.  This is part of a joint project by The Nature Conservancy of Ohio, The Metroparks of the Toledo Area, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and Bowling Green State University, with funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

More information:

Read the 2010 Blanding's Turtle Conservation Assessment by the Midwest Partners for Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (MWPARC).