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As the Blanding's turtle numbers fall, feds may put it on endangered species list

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The federal government is considering whether to add the Blanding's turtle to the endangered species list. This species of turtle used to be found throughout the upper Midwest, but its numbers are dwindling and now its mainly found in large numbers in Minnesota and Nebraska, the Associated Press reports.

Blanding's turtles are already listed as a threatened species in Minnesota, but right now they have no special protection under the federal government. The "endangered" designation would provide them greater protection. (FYI the turtle was named for William Blanding, a naturalist who discovered the species around 1840 in Pennsylvania)

Although the Minnesota DNR says the state is home to several thousand Blanding's turtles, their habitat is threatened by development and their slow rate of reproduction may not sustain their populations, according to the Associated Press.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last week it was going to study whether the Blanding's turtle and several other amphibians and reptiles need that additional protection.

The decision to do formal assessments came in response to a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental advocacy group.

Blanding's turtles grow to 6-10 inches in length. They have a distinctive look, with domed upper shells and bright yellow chins and throats. But their good looks are part of the problem because they are often caught and sold illegally as pets, the center says.

But a bigger problem is their habitats are giving way to more development. The turtles live primarily in marshes and other wetlands, but also need to have sandy areas nearby for nesting. The largest numbers of them live in backwater areas along the Mississippi River, according to the DNR.

The turtles also are susceptible to becoming road kill, since - as turtles - they don't move very fast and sometimes need to cross roads to get from their wetland homes to their nesting spots.

Blanding's have a fairly low reproduction rate as well. Although they can live to be 70 or older, they don't begin reproducing until they're 12-20 years old and then don't lay very many eggs each year, the Associated Press notes.

The Forest Service says it will look at all of those factors as it begins its in-depth review of the Blanding's turtle's status, which will take a year or two. The agency is accepting public comments on the issue until Aug. 31, at this website.

Turtle researcher has 'holy crap' moment

An interesting side note: One determined Blanding's turtle in Ohio traveled an unusually long distance - 17 miles - over the course of the past seven years, surprising wildlife researchers there with his stamina.

The turtle was microchipped in 2007 as part of research by the Toledo Zoo, according to the Blade of Toledo. One of the researchers saw the turtle late last year in a state forest, read the microchip, and determined the animal had traveled much farther than they thought Blanding's would go.

"It was very much a ‘holy crap’ moment," said the researcher. (Read more here)

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