The “Pant Less Turtle”
Wednesday night, I was lying on my bed reading when Mom walked in with an ice cream pail. “Here’s your turtle”, she said as she set it down on the edge of my bed next to me. I’d had a rough couple of days, I had spent the day before feeling very sad and low, on Wednesday these feelings kept coming back periodically throughout the day. So at the first mention of me taking in a turtle, I wasn’t so enthused. It felt like yet another burden, one more thing to needing care. Yet, as I held the turtle in my palm, feeling its tiny feet tickle my skin, I marveled at this precious and beautiful creature. Its arrival coming the day it did, I realized the turtle was a gift from God reassuring me that I am known, thought of and loved.
Our friend, Larry, found the Blanding’s turtle hatchling near Weaver. The turtle was missing part of its shell, he though it hatched without its shell forming completely. Larry refers to it as the “pant-less turtle”, which is a very good way to describe it. The bottom part of the shell is missing about where the turtle’s waist would be if they had one. This deformity has left the back legs and tail completely exposed, leaving the turtle very vulnerable. Larry asked if I would raise the baby turtle since it wouldn’t survive on its own. He also said not to feel bad if the turtle didn’t survive.
The bright yellow chin and helmet- shape profile are generally distinguishing characteristics of Blanding’s turtles. Its carapace, the top of the shell, is dark blue to black, with faint yellow spots and bars. It has a large, yellow plastron, the underside, with the anterior hinged which enables the turtle to pull the front edge of the plastron tightly up against the carapace, providing additional protection. The head, legs, and tail are dark brown or blue gray with tiny light brown or yellow dots. The hatchlings have an undeveloped hinge.
Blanding’s turtles are found in southern Ontario and the Great Lakes States westward to western Nebraska and as far south as Illinois. There are a few populations dotted across New England. Their range in Minnesota is substantial, however large populations are known from only a few localities. Blanding’s prefer open areas, near slow-moving and shallow waters with mud bottoms and abundant aquatic vegetation. Extensive marshes bordering rivers provide excellent habitat. They overwinter in the muddy bottoms of marshes and ponds.
These turtles are diurnal, spending a lot of their days, as early as April, basking in the sun and foraging for food. Blanding’s eat a variety of foods including frogs, crayfish, slugs, insects and some vegetation. Males court the females in late spring. At the beginning of June, females travel up to a mile to find suitable nesting sites in sandy areas; at this time numerous females can be seen crossing roads. (Drivers near prime turtle habitat should drive carefully and slowly at this time of year.) The nests are dug by the female using only her hind feet. After depositing the eggs, she may rest nearby before starting her long trek back to water. In September, hatchlings break through the brittle shell using their egg tooth, called a caruncle, and emerge from the nests. Like their mothers months before, they often must take long overland treks to find water. Nests and hatchlings fall prey to skunks, raccoons and predatory birds. Blanding’s are mellow, inoffensive creatures; they do not attempt to bite but instead pull up into their shell. The world is a very harsh place for these turtles, not only do they have to watch out for predatory animals but humans also have made survival for this species difficult. Swamps and marshes continue to be drained for economical use, destroying ideal turtle habitat. Another major threat to turtles is the automobile. Tragically, despite turtle crossing signs, numerous turtles are killed during migration. It angers me that most deaths appear intentional. Why kill a harmless, inoffensive, extremely fascinating creature like a turtle? It is sickening that there are people out there that are so careless and heartless. A person driving in turtle habitat, especially with turtle crossing signs, should drive slowly and carefully, even stopping a vehicle to gently move a turtle to the side of the road. The most crucial time of year is in the months of June, September, and October.
This species of turtle was named after William Blanding, an early naturalist from Philadelphia. A Blanding’s turtle was found to be at least 75 years old. Larry told Mom that if our turtle survives it could out live all of us. Blanding’s turtles are classified as threatened in Minnesota and therefore are given total protection.
Although wild animals should not be kept as pets, this case is an exception; the turtle would not survive on its own and Larry, being a biologist who formerly worked for the state’s DNR, asked me to undertake this task. I have been blessed with lots of nieces and a few nephews some of whom live on our farm and the others visit frequently; these children are curious and awed by the natural world. Raising this turtle will allow me to further instruct them on the wonderfully creatures we have living on this planet with us and to continue to imprint a love for all of creation on their eager minds.
It wasn’t until Thursday morning that a couple of the kids were able to meet the turtle. My siblings, Aleesha and Isaiah, were the first to meet it, they were also quite fascinated by this tiny animal. Isaiah knelt down for a closer look and Aleesha provided us with a name that could be used for either a boy or girl, which is Jordan. Soon afterwards, Isabel and Alexis came in and met the turtle. They plopped to the floor next to its pail. I was delighted to observe them as they observed our turtle, Jordan. I was greatly entertained with their talk about Jordan. They asked questions. Their eyes were lit and sparkled as they talked, darting from the turtle to me. Isabel very cutely, wished she had a pet turtle, with her index finger up and lips slightly puckered. She also wondered if the turtle liked little people (meaning children). I told her they were the first the turtle met so I wasn’t sure. Alexis talked of helping catch insects for the turtle to eat, her eyes ever glowing. As they talked excitedly about Jordan, suddenly Isabel mentioned seeing a bigger turtle in a large bucket earlier this summer. Alexis told Isabel that she hadn’t seen another turtle. However, Isabel was indeed remembering correctly for she was able to see the painted turtle I rescued in June before it was released. I validated what Isabel remembered, “Oooh, the painted turtle I found.” Isabel asked who painted it. I was quite tickled by the question. I responded, “God did, to make it beautiful. And it is called a painted turtle.” There was so much more that they said but I am regrettably unable to remember it all, however I enjoyed every moment with them near the turtle. Later, Alexis brought Therese over to see the turtle. Therese, being a little older, asked even more questions about the turtle and about turtles in general. Within an hour, and just shortly after getting home, Malachi came in asking if he could see the turtle. Nate saw the turtle too, he called it an amazing turtle. I smiled and agreed that it was indeed an amazing turtle. Their response to the turtle was a balm; I was filled with joy by these wonderful children who were eager to learn all I had to teach them about nature. I am indeed blessed and was given a great gift through this turtle and my siblings’ children.