Sometimes I find myself getting sidetracked. OK, many times I find myself getting sidetracked. Must mean old age, I tell myself. Such is the case with this week's column. Three weeks ago I wrote about a smooth green snake that was discovered on one of Cole's field trips. I ended the column with how the nature walk fairy had been particularly generous. Not only had they found a smooth green snake, but they also had found a Blandings turtle. I ended with how cool that was and that it would have to wait until next week's column. What can I say, I got side-tracked. Well, here as promised.finally.the Blandings turtle.
Blandings turtles are wetland, or marsh turtles. In fact, they are very good indicators of high quality, diverse, natural wetlands. I have found them in the past at the Holland marsh, but this one was found up near Grundy County lake. As a matter of fact, it was the first thing on the field trip because it was in the parking lot. That's exciting because that is several miles from the Holland marsh and show us that they are in more than one location in our county.
What's so special about finding a Blanding's turtle? They are on the state's threatened species list. In fact, they are on most states threatened species list within their known range. Habitat loss has contributed to the decline of this turtle.
As turtles go, this is one of Iowa's larger turtle species. Average adult size is from 8 to as much as 10 inches carapace (shell) length. The carapace is highly domed. It kind of reminds me of a helmet. The shell is black or very dark gray with yellow dots. The plastron (under-shell) is yellow with a large black blotch on the edge of each scute.
And there is a prominent plastral hinge that allows the turtle to completely close the front of its shell. Box turtles have this kind of hinge, as well. The skin is black or dark gray. The most distinguishing character of this species is the bright yellow coloration on the chin and throat. This can be seen using binoculars when the turtle has its neck extended.
Another interesting fact about Blanding's turtles is that unlike most of Iowa's aquatic turtle species, the male Blanding's turtles' grow larger than the females. Another way of identifying the genders is that females have some striping on the upper jaw and the upper jaw of males is plain black giving the appearance of a mustache. And when you look at them from the side, it looks for the world to me like they are smiling. We all could do well sporting a permanent smile on our faces couldn't we?
Even though they are some of Iowa's larger turtles, Blanding's turtles are not aggressive turtles. They rarely bite; instead, they pull their head and limbs inside their shell, close the front hinge tight, and wait for danger to pass. Very effective against predators, not so effective against vehicles.
On your next visit to one of our wetlands in the area, keep your eye out for Blanding's turtles and if you see one, let me know.