Study aims to benefit threatened turtle

(Above) DNR Wildlife Research Technician Dave Hoffman prepares to release a radio tagged Blanding’s turtle.  Biologists are currently monitoring the movements of four radio equipped Blanding’s at Ventura Marsh and Hancock County’s Eagle Lake Wildlife Area.   A once common inhabitant of Iowa wetlands, the species has become a rapidly declining, threatened species. - Photo by Lowell Washburn.

by Lowell Washburn

Following decades of silence, some of Iowa’s most secretive reptiles are currently emitting radio signals from the watery depths of Ventura Marsh and Eagle Lake in North Iowa.  Twelve hours on and 12 hours off, the daily transmissions are being closely monitored by a team of wildlife diversity experts with the Iowa DNR.  The rapidly accumulating data is contributing to a first of its kind project aimed at enabling researchers to stall the ongoing decline of the iconic Blanding’s turtle, one of the state’s most interesting, but rarely observed, forms of native wildlife.  Located in Hancock County, the 900-acre Eagle Lake Wildlife Area is one of a declining number of Iowa wetlands still harboring a viable population of this threatened species.

“Blanding’s turtles are extremely secretive,” says DNR Wildlife Research Technician, Dave Hoffman.  “Since we can’t rely on visual sightings, the use of radio telemetry is our best way to gain knowledge of this declining species.  Programmed to operate in 12-hour cycles, our transmitters have an estimated lifespan of nine years.  We hope to learn a lot of things from this study – things like habitat use during spring and summer, habitat use during winter hibernation, or how migrating females select upland nesting sites.  One of the most important questions is why there are virtually no young turtles being added to existing populations.”

DNR wildlifers are employing underwater baited cage traps to obtain samples of Eagle Lake’s most elusive species.  But while the public wildlife area continues to support hundreds of painted and snapping turtles, Blanding’s turtles have become alarmingly scarce.  In an area where the unique reptiles were once common, researchers have only succeeded in capturing three male and one female Blanding’s so far this summer.  After being equipped

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