Blanding's Turtle Laparoscopy

I have previously blogged about our adult male Blanding's turtle, Skip, and the problems that Blanding's turtles face here in Massachusetts. I have also blogged about the head-start program for Northern red-bellied turtles. Combining those two themes together, today's blog is about the head-start program for Blanding's turtles.

Head-started Blanding's turtles

Blanding's turtle nests are protected with wire cages at several locations in Massachusetts. When the babies hatch in the fall they are sent to several institutions to be raised through the winter. By the following spring, they are large enough to improve their chance of survival, and are released back to the swamps where they were collected.

It isn't possible to determine the gender of baby turtles from the outside, but medical technology is now allowing us to look inside their bodies to determine whether they have testes or ovaries. These images are from a recent procedure we did to check the gender of ten head-started Blanding's turtles. The turtles will be released in a month or so.

The turtles are put under anesthesia, and a small incision is made in front of the hind leg to allow the scope to be introduced into the body cavity. The gonad is located along the front surface of the kidney.

In this image, the testicle is the light tan, smooth, elongated structure in the center of the image. It is only a few millimeters in size, but the scope magnifies it so that we can see it better.

We found that all of the babies were male! The gender of Blanding's turtles, like many turtle species, is determined by the incubation temperature of the egg. If the eggs in a nest were all at about the same temperature, all of the babies will be the same sex. For Blanding's, cooler temperatures produce males. So it is likely that the babies that we examined came from relatively cool nests. The biologists that study these turtles will be looking into this in more detail this summer. We are planning to check some more babies soon, and we are hoping to find some females.

We thank the many individuals and institutions that are working on this project in addition to the New England Aquarium: Zoo New England, Hyla Ecological, Oxbow Associates, Mass Wildlife, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

-Dr. Innis


  1. I have had the same philosophy raising turtles here in Wisconsin, but after several attempts to speak with the head of cold-blooded vertebrates in the WI Department Of Natural Resources (DNR) to establish a rapport and initiate the idea to do that here, I have nearly decided to give up. The DNR doesn't reply to my queries. Apparently I'm just a stupid wanna-be because I'm not "accredited" or something. But I have successfully raised two dozen turtles in the last two years. And I'm in the process of raising more now. I use the exact same philosophy! I want them to be big enough to fend for themselves in the wild. And I can rapidly grow them to that size whereas in the wild it may take three to five years to reach that size. It's not out of the ordinary, but I took a hatchling Common Snapper two years ago Sept. 7th, at a carapace length of approx. 1.25" and by May 15th of the following year I released it at a carapace length of 5.75", well beyond the "danger zone" for predation. This one was ready to fight in the wild! I am always willing to share ideas too... Just ask. I have had great success in raising turtles and still (knock on wood) have not experienced this mysterious "sudden death syndrome" I have heard other turtle handlers speak of. They insist that sometimes turtles just mysteriously die for no reason. I do not believe that for one minute! It was common neglect. Cheers!

  2. I wounder if all the turtles survived. Do you think that all the turtles survive? I hope each and everyone does. Are they like dolphins? Do they be with their mother when they hatch?