A new turtle at the Aquarium

A new turtle at the Aquarium

In addition to our sea turtle work, we also work with a number of conservation programs for native freshwater turtles. This is "Skip," a Blanding's turtle. Blanding's turtles are found in marshy wetlands in the northern United States. Here in New England, Blanding's turtles are very rare. In Massachusetts, they are found at only a few locations, with relatively few turtles at each location. In most areas, Blanding's turtle populations are declining due to habitat destruction, road mortality (females are often hit by cars when looking for nest sites in spring), and illegal collection as pets.

Because of this, Blanding's turtles are protected under Massachusetts law as a threatened species. In 2007, Joe Masi, one of the aquarists here at the Aquarium, found a Blanding's turtle during a field survey of a swamp in southeastern Massachusetts. This location was not previously known to have a population of Blanding's turtles and this initial discovery has led to more intensive surveys of the site. So far no additional specimens have been found.

Skip came to the New England Aquarium recently after he was confiscated by state officials. He was being illegally kept as a pet. Unfortunately, he cannot be released back to the wild because we don't know exactly where he came from and he was exposed to a non-native turtle in captivity. Turtles have genetic adaptations to certain geographic areas, and they have a well developed home range. Thus, releasing a turtle of unknown geographic origin carries the risk of introducing genes that are not adapted to that location. Often turtles that are released outside of their home range keep wandering indefinitely, and never join a population. Also, exposure of native turtles to non-native turtles carries the risk of introducing disease into the native population. All of these factors could be devastating for local species.

So ... Skip will live with us at the Aquarium and serve as an ambassador to educate the public about turtle conservation. Please remember that many of our native turtles are threatened or endangered, and be sure not to take such animals out of the wild.

-Dr. Innis

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