New study to track Cook County turtles and habitat use

By John Hartmann, USDA Wildlife Services-Illinois, wildlife biologist

©a. Stacina Stagner, Communications Manager, Forest Preserves of Cook County

Future generations of turtles in the Chicago area have new hope thanks to Forest Preserves of Cook County, Friends of the Chicago River, and USDA Wildlife Services.  For many aquatic turtles, the loss of suitable nesting habitat and high predator densities has limited their ability to reproduce.  Increased invasive plant density has restricted turtle nesting to confined areas and the activity is predictable to predators.

a.USDA Wildlife Services’ Wildlife Specialist Hannah O’Malley and Wildlife Biologist John Hartmann take measurements on a common snapping turtle as part of a new project being conducted by USDA Wildlife Services, Forest Preserves of Cook County, and Friends of the Chicago River. ©Stacina Stagner, Communications Manager, Forest Preserves of Cook County

a. USDA Wildlife Services’ Wildlife Specialist Hannah O’Malley and Wildlife Biologist John Hartmann take measurements on a common snapping turtle as part of a new project being conducted by USDA Wildlife Services, Forest Preserves of Cook County, and Friends of the Chicago River. ©Stacina Stagner, Communications Manager, Forest Preserves of Cook County

Lost habitat accompanied by abundant meso-predator populations has left turtle eggs and hatchlings vulnerable.  To minimize these challenges, by removing invasive shrubs and trees Friends of the Chicago River is restoring potential turtle nesting sites, which helps turtles find new nesting sites unknown to predators.  Some of the species benefitted include southern painted, common snapping, and spiny softshell turtles.

a.USDA Wildlife Services’ Wildlife Biologist John Hartmann, Biologist Melina Frezados (Forest Preserves of Cook County), and Senior Wildlife Biologist Chris Anchor (background, Forest Preserves of Cook County) take measurements on a southern painted turtle as part of a new project being conducted by USDA Wildlife Services, Forest Preserves of Cook County, and Friends of the Chicago River. ©Stacina Stagner, Communications Manager, Forest Preserves of Cook County

a. USDA Wildlife Services’ Wildlife Biologist John Hartmann, Biologist Melina Frezados (Forest Preserves of Cook County), and Senior Wildlife Biologist Chris Anchor (background, Forest Preserves of Cook County) take measurements on a southern painted turtle as part of a new project being conducted by USDA Wildlife Services, Forest Preserves of Cook County, and Friends of the Chicago River. ©Stacina Stagner, Communications Manager, Forest Preserves of Cook County

In order to monitor restoration efforts, biologists from Forest Preserves of Cook County and USDA Wildlife Services captured turtles near the restored habitats and attached transmitters to the their shells, which allows tracking after release.  Blood samples were taken and data was recorded on each turtle’s size, weight, and sex.  The nesting ecology, reproduction, and predation rates of turtle eggs and hatchlings at the restored sites will be monitored by staff.

a.Conservation program specialist Claire Snyder (Friends of the Chicago River) works to safely release a common snapping turtle. ©Stacina Stagner, Communications Manager, Forest Preserves of Cook County

a. Conservation program specialist Claire Snyder (Friends of the Chicago River) works to safely release a common snapping turtle. ©Stacina Stagner, Communications Manager, Forest Preserves of Cook County

Wildlife Services is a Strategic Partner of TWS.