Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: Have you seen a Blanding's turtle this summer?

By STACEY COLE August 11. 2017 8:10PM
The Blanding's is a medium-sized turtle with an average shell length of about 7 to 9 inches and a maximum length of 10 inches. A distinguishing feature of this turtle is the bright yellow chin and throat. (Union Leader file photo)

Editor’s note: The following column was originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2006.

IT IS TIME to talk of turtles again. After our July 1 column on the spotted turtle, we received several letters on the subject.

A Raymond reader wrote in part, “considering that the carapace upper shell length for clemmys guttata spotted turtle is five inches, the eight-inch turtle observed was probably Emydoidea blanding, the Blanding’s turtle.

“In the last 15 years I have captured six Blanding’s turtles in the Raymond, Epping, Fremont area, and in each case have recorded the location, date and length before releasing them: 5/26/91, 8½ inches, Prescott Road Epping; 6/13/97, 8¼ inches, Harriman Hill Road, Raymond; 6/24/99, 8 inches, near Raymond police station; 9/23/01, 8¾ inches, Pawtuckaway State Park; 6/8/03, 8¼ inches, Pawtuckaway State Park.

“A six-inch Blanding’s was found by me on Route 107 in Fremont after being hit by a car. The front of the carapace was in three pieces, and blood was coming out of its mouth. I put the shell together with duct tape and took it to a wildlife vet in Nottingham. She wired the shell together and administered antibiotics. The turtle was returned to the wild the following year.”

And then, following a very complimentary introduction, a letter from Gilford continued: “The column ... did get my attention. Reading about the different types of turtles was very interesting.

“I take care of about 155 acres in Belmont, for a company located in Meredith. A few years ago I spotted a few large turtles in the area, a type I had never seen before. After doing some research on them, I believe they are Blanding’s turtles. When surprised, they will go in the water and, without a ripple, a very long and thick head will appear, looking like the lower part of a dead tree. And, again without a ripple, will disappear.

“About three years ago I saw one laying eggs on top of a gravel pile. A few weeks ago I saw tracks in some mud in the dirt road that were quite unique. After some head scratching I realized they were from a large turtle. Looking up the gravel bank, there was a large turtle laying eggs. I immediately left the area so as not to disturb it.

“I have on occasion seen smaller turtles which also appear to be Blanding’s.”

Because a question was raised that the spotted turtle discussed in the July 1 column may have actually been a Blanding’s turtle, I’ll quote the descriptions of both from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation fact sheets.

First, the spotted: The polka-dot turtle has yellow spots on the head, neck, legs and its black upper shell or carapace. Background coloration is black. The number and arrangement of spots is extremely variable and changes with age.

Hatching turtles usually have one spot on each plate, while older individuals are well sprinkled with 100 or more. Occasionally, individuals without any spots on the shells may be found, but they still have yellow and orange markings on the face.

The lower shell or plastron is yellow and black in color. Male spotted turtles have dark pigment on the hard portions of both jaws; females have yellowish coloration there. Spotted turtles measure 3-1⁄2 to 5 inches in length.

The Blanding’s is a medium-sized turtle with an average shell length of approximately 7 to 9 inches and a maximum length of 10 inches. A distinguishing feature of this turtle is the bright yellow chin and throat.

The carapace, or upper shell, is domed, but slightly flattened along the midline, and is oblong when viewed from above. The carapace is speckled with numerous yellow or light-colored flecks or streaks on a dark background.

The plastron, or lower shell, is yellow with dark blotches symmetrically arranged. The head and legs are dark, usually speckled or mottled with yellow. The Blanding’s turtle is also called the semi-box turtle, for although the plastron is hinged, the plastral lobes do not shut as tight as the box turtles.

Stacey Cole, Nature Talks columnist for more than 50 years, passed away in 2014. If readers have a favorite column written by Stacey that they would like to see reprinted, please drop a note to Jen Lord at jlord@unionleader.com.


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