Celebrate World Turtle Day

We'll help shine a light on the oldest living reptiles in the world

It's World Turtle Day, an annual event on May 23 that was started by the American Tortoise Rescue with the goal of putting a spotlight on the care, conservation and awareness of these amazing creatures.

Not only do they come in various shapes and sizes, but they are the oldest living reptiles in existence, having roamed the Earth for between 200 to 300 million years. 

It's estimated that there are approximately 300 different species in existence today, spending their time on land, in freshwater and in the ocean.

Some, such as Blanding's turtles, are on Illinois' state endangered list. Currently, the District is part of the regional Blanding's Turtle Recovery Program to help save them.

If you've ever set foot in one of the District's preserves, odds are you've seen a turtle or two, whether it was in the water, catching some sun on a log or slowly crossing a path.

Here's a glance at a number of species that can be found out in the wild in Will County.

Red-eared Slider

(Photo courtesy of Paul Dacko)

There's no mystery how this turtle gets its name. The first telltale sign is the red patch on both sides of its head, as well as being known to slide into the water whenever there is the slightest hint of danger.

Their range includes the Midwest, and they often have been kept as pets. Unfortunately, they also have many times been released into the wild when their owners no longer wanted them. 

They are adaptable to many climates, and can most often be found near water, either swimming in it or basking in the sun on rocks or logs. Water serves as a place to hide for this turtle when predators approach.

Northern Map Turtle

(Photo courtesy of Joel Craig)

Much like the red-eared slider, the northern map turtle gets its name based on its visual appearance, thanks to its shell that has markings looking similar to a topgraphical map.

They can generally be found in rivers and lakes with slow moving water, and have a tendency to gather in spots with a number of different areas to bask in the sun.

Females will lay their eggs in June and July — up to 17 at eggs once — and they will hatch in the fall.

Not sure how to tell the difference between a female and a male? The females will be larger, ranging from seven to 11 inches long, while the males measure between three and six inches.

Painted Turtle

(Photo by Glenn P. Knoblock)

It's the most widespread native turtle in North America, and can be found living in ponds, lakes, marshes and rivers that have slow-moving water.

Much like the red-eared slider, they'll hit the water at the first sign of danger to avoid predators, which can include raccoons, otters, foxes and any other medium-sized critters looking for a meal courtesy of the turtle or its eggs.

Their vibrant color makes them easy to spot and a stunning specimen to photograph.

Snapping Turtle 

(Photo courtesy of Kevin Keyes)

These beasts can be quite a sight, with nearly all adults weighing in excess of 20 pounds. They continue to grow throughout their lifetime, with the largest snapping turtle caught in captivity reportedly weighing 75 pounds. 

They also can be quite combative, with the potential to use their beak-like jaw to deliver quite a painful bite if given the opportunity.

 

They prefer waters with muddy bottoms and plentiful vegetation to provide some protective cover. They'll often bury themselves, only leaving their eyes and nostrils exposed. 

Whether it's fish, birds, insects or other small mammals, they'll chow down whatever is available.

Every now and then, trail users are lucky enough to spot them in some serious mating activity along Centennial Trail.

Spotted Turtle

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Spotted turtles get their name from, you guessed it, the promintent yellow spots on their smooth and dark shells.

Occasionally, spotted turtles will lack those distictive markings, but can still be identified by orange and yellow markings on their face.

They can be found in Illinois, as well as along the Eastern Seaboard and portions of the South.

Their activity heats up in the spring after hibernating all winter, then slows down during the hottest parts of the summer when they'll burrow themselves into water. Not only does this keep them cool, but it helps them hide from raccoons, one of their main predators on land.

Three-toed Box Turtle

(Photo by Chad Merda)

Three-toed box turtles aren't native to Illinois, but one is living at Plum Creek Nature Center after being taken in as a rescue.

Smash was found wandering outdoors and staff decided to give him a forever home.

"Since they are not from here, they cannot survive our winter and they could introduce bacteria into the environment that could hurt native turtles," interpretive naturalist Bob Bryerton said. 

The turtles' home turf is Missouri, Tennessee and other southern states. 

 

The Plum Creek Nature Center resident is believed to be in his mid-20s and there's a good chance he'll hit the century mark.

"Smash is a huge hit with visitors," Bryerton said. "Kids come in and love to see if they can find him in his cage. He is so gentle and shy and moves so slowly the kids just love him."

Softshell Turtle

(Photo courtesy of Paul Dacko)

Softshell turtles definitely are unique, with their shells being smooth and leathery and lacking any plates. They also are flatter than their turtle counterparts, with more of a pancake-like appearance.

Females can be twice as large as the males (14 inches long compared to seven inches), and they'll mate from April until May.

Much like the snapping turtle, it will bury itself, only allowing its head to stick out of water to breathe.

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Lead image via Shutterstock

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