The Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) is native to central and eastern parts of Canada and the United States. It is currently regarded as endangered throughout much of its natural habitat.
Male vs Female
As with other turtles, the sex of an individual – or indeed a clutch of individuals – is determined by the heat level during incubation.
Perhaps surprisingly, there is no especially notable difference in size between adult male and female Blanding’s turtles. They come to sexual maturity around 14 years after hatching.
When it comes to telling the difference then, it’s not size you need to look at. Female Blanding’s turtles have taller shells compared to the males, while the males’ shells are usually wider. While this is less of a hard and fast rule, males may be more likely to have pitted shells than females.
This is a peculiarity of the breed, as usually in turtles, it is the females who show more erosion and shell-pitting. Another tell-tale sign of a male Blanding’s turtle is a light yellow covering round the mouth. Only the males appear to have this mouth-covering color, which makes for a handy identifier.
You won’t mistake a Blanding’s turtle in a line-up. The single most vivid identifying mark of the breed is a bright yellow chin and throat that is uniquely arresting and attractive.
In the unlikely event you need more than this to pick out the Blanding’s turtle, check out the carapace. It’s usually very domed, smooth, and mostly black, with yellow or tan flecking.
If the flecking is faded or even absent, don’t second-guess yourself – some individuals have it to lesser degrees, and it can also fade over time. The throat and chin fade significantly less, if at all. In adult Blanding’s turtles, the carapace can be anything up to 11 inches in length.
As a Pet
Blanding’s turtles are particularly valued as pets, but they are frequently illegally trapped for sale in exotic pet stores. We advise you not to get one through these sources, to discourage illegal turtle trading.
If you can get one from a friend, you’re going to need a wetland-like and ideally outdoor environment to keep them in, and you’re going to need to be vigilant on feeding and turtle-health.
One of the most amazing things about the Blanding’s turtle is that it has been commonly known to live into its eighth decade. Perhaps that doesn’t sound impressive – some tortoises have been known to live into three figures.
But the Blanding’s turtle shows very little sign of age-related decline all the way into these advanced ages. It even remains capable of reproduction in its eighties and nineties.
So, while it’s relatively endangered, it is a species of turtle of enormous interest to scientists aiming to unlock the secret of ageing and decay – and how to stop them.
The Blanding’s turtle has a couple of neat adaptations, including a hinged plastron that lets the turtle close the front half of the shell tightly, to protect its head, neck, and legs from predators. The flat top to its shell and the slight webbing of its feet help it move efficiently through watery environments.
Breeding takes place year-round essentially for the Blanding’s turtles. That said, their peak breeding season starts March and early April – shortly after they emerge from their overwinter hibernation.
Females will only nest and lay eggs once a year, between the last weeks of June and the beginning of July. The explanation of breeding being a potentially year-round occurrence and there only being one clutch of fertilized eggs per year is that female Blanding’s turtles practice sperm-storage.
Clutch sizes in the Blanding’s turtle range from just 3 to 19, with an average of 10 eggs per clutch. Older and larger females produce the largest clutches, but there seems to be no particular correlation between the size of the egg and the size or the age of the turtles.
It usually takes the entire clutch between 2-11 days to hatch. Hatchling turtles will weigh 6 to 10 grams at birth, and are independent immediately.
Hatchling Blanding’s turtles are born at between 1-1.5 inches in length, weighing less than half an ounce. In the first year of their lives, they will experience explosive growth in both mass and length – their abdominal plates will grow by about 70% in that first year.
Over the next four years though, their growth rate decreases, and by the age of four, they are as large as they’re going to get – usually between 26.43 to 49.34 ounces.
The Blanding’s turtle has three phases of life – hatchlings, juveniles and adults. The hatchling phase lasts up to about two years. Juveniles use the next two years to grow significantly, so that by age 4, the turtles enter their adult phase, and are as large as they are likely to grow.
Once hatched, Blanding’s turtles are independent immediately, so there is little by way of parental nurture in their lives. Despite being adult sized at 4, the males often reach sexual maturity at around age 12, the females frequently later, between 14-21 years.
The breed biannually, and have been known to continue breeding into significant old age – up to 80 years and more.
In the wild, in their chief habitat around the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence, there are estimated to be fewer than 10,000 Blanding’s turtles left – and of those, there are fewer than 1,000 reproducing individuals. That’s why they’re classed as endangered, and why illegal trapping for the exotic pet market should be stopped.
Blanding’s turtles are omnivorous – they will eat both plants and animals.
Around half their usual diet will be made up of crustaceans, like crayfish. Half of their diet are crustaceans, such as crayfish. Insects, beetles, fish eggs, frogs, fish, and small snails can also be an acceptable part of a Blanding’s turtle’s diet.
Northern short-tailed shrews are a predator to newly hatched Blanding’s turtles. Striped skunks, Virginia opossums, raccoons, and foxes are also potential predators to the Blanding’s turtle’s eggs in their nests. In adult life, the presence of ice in their northern wetland habitats is some defence against predation, but the North American river otter will still be a danger to them.
As they are the second most popular turtle species in commercial trade, it is entirely legitimate to also describe Man as a dangerous predator to this breed.
While generally they enjoy a familiar area, the Blanding’s turtle will routinely roam up to a mile and a half when it comes to nesting time, so it’s worth keeping an extra-vigilant eye on them at that time.
Blanding’s turtles can suffer from respiratory conditions, which can be down to either bacteria or to vitamin A deficiency.
Bacterial and viral infections can give Blanding’s turtles shell issues too, which can even lead to shell cracking.
Abscesses – swellings or tumor-like growths – can pop up on any part of the Blanding’s turtle’s body, especially the eyes and ears, due to a lack of Vitamin A in the turtles’ diet.
Watch out for intestinal parasites and falling injuries too – Blanding’s turtles are larger than many other types of pet turtle, and are a martyr to their usually outdoor environments.
The eyes of the Blanding’s turtle can vary from a light yellow to a dark orange, but will always have a dark, almost black centre.
The Blanding’s turtle begins hibernation in the fall when the water temperature falls to about 48 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Not an especially aggressive turtle by nature, it will hibernate in mud or any useful matter that is near the water. It emerges from hibernation in very early spring – and more or less immediately begins its mating season.
Can they swim?
They can, yes. In fact, the Blanding’s turtle is mostly aquatic in its habitat, though it has been known to regularly come out onto logs or other flotsam in its native wetlands during the course of its day.
Ideally, wear gloves when handling a Blanding’s turtle – or wash your hands to avoid spreading salmonella. They may also have parasites, so you need to make sure not to spread them to other pets – or indeed yourself and family members.
When handling Blanding’s turtle, wash your hands to avoid the spread of Salmonella and other diseases. Blanding’s turtles may be affected by parasites so don’t spread it to other pets as well.
Handle a Blanding’s turtle carefully, and ideally keep them out of cold environments. Temperature maintenance is important to a Blanding’s turtle.
Feed your Blanding’s turtle the mixed diet it would find for itself in the wild.
Take it to the vet on a regular basis, to make sure nothing out of the ordinary is happening.
Again, we strongly advise against paying exotic pet stores for your Blanding’s turtle, because there is a lot of illegal trapping to feed that market. Ongoing costs should be no more than those for a fussy dog – a varied diet, a heat lamp for temperature regulation, regular vet bills, etc.
The Blanding’s turtle is among the most highly sought turtles for the exotic pet market – hence their current endangered status. They’re also of interest to scientists looking at ways to cure – or minimize the impact of – ageing in humans.