Why are turtles in trouble?
Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, is a veritable paradise for freshwater turtles. Unfortunately, as a result of habitat loss & degradation, road mortality, nest predation, and poaching, turtles today are in trouble. Of the nine species found in Minnesota, Blanding’s and Wood turtles are particularly vulnerable and are state listed as Threatened. Significant population declines in recent decades necessitate the need for action.
Why are turtles important?
In addition to providing an important connection to nature for kids and adults alike, Minnesota’s turtles provide us with many ecosystem services. Turtles are a crucial member of the freshwater community, keeping waterbodies clean and healthy by consuming decaying matter that can spread disease. They also disperse seeds of native plants, cycle nutrients, and create habitat for other pond critters.
What is the Zoo doing?
The Minnesota Zoo is partnering with other state agencies to better understand the threats facing Minnesota’s turtles. Using radio telemetry and GPS transmitters, we are tracking threatened turtles to learn about habitat use and nesting locations. This data will provide information on turtle needs and help to inform effective management strategies. We are also investigating road mortality impacts on turtles by surveying sites around the greater metro and testing the effectiveness of mitigation strategies such as small animal exclusion fencing. Further, we will be installing electrified fences around nesting sites to help protect turtle eggs from predators during this vulnerable stage.
What can you do to help?
- Turtles are particularly active on roads in the late spring (May-June) and again in the early fall (September). When safe to do so, assist turtles across roads in the direction they are heading. See the video here for tips on how to safely handle turtles.
- Do not disturb turtle nests and keep pets leashed near waterbodies where turtles are likely to be present.
- Leave shorelines natural: encourage native vegetation and leave fallen trees – an important resource for basking turtles.
- Don’t litter! This attracts turtle predators such as raccoons, skunks, and foxes, which readily feed on turtle eggs and young.
- Keep stormwater free of pollutants – it drains into turtle habitat and can impact water quality and turtle food sources. Contaminants include: pet waste, sidewalk/road salt, pesticides, and lawn fertilizers.
- If you are able, please donate to the MN Zoo to help fund future turtle research. Together we can build populations of threatened turtles and keep common species common.
Key Staff: Tricia Markle, Wildlife Conservation Specialist – Turtles, Minnesota Zoo
Seth Stapleton, Field Conservation Supervisor, Minnesota Zoo