Blanding's turtles call McMillan Marsh home
Marshfield man works to preserve their nesting sites
By Casey Krautkramer
Wednesday, July 28, 2004
A Marshfield man's passion for Blanding's turtles is helping the threatened turtles survive. Jon Zellmer, 34, has followed Blanding's turtles since he was a child.
"Blanding's turtle has a purpose in McMillan Marsh, and it needs to continue fulfilling its purpose in the McMillan Marsh," he said. "It's a real complement to McMillan Marsh." The marsh also is home to more-prevalent painted and snapping turtles. Blanding's turtles are recognizable by their bright yellow chin and throat, he said.
During the middle of June, Zellmer found out about a wounded turtle on a bike trail in the marsh. The pregnant turtle had a skull fracture and broken jaw, and he speculated its head was either run over by a bike or someone stomped on it.
Zellmer took the injured turtle to Raptor Education Group International in Antigo, which rehabilitates wildlife, conducts research, and breeds endangered species.
The turtle had laid 12 eggs, but Monday it surprisingly laid another egg, said Marge Gibson, executive director of Raptor Education Group International. The eggs are being incubated and the hatchlings will eventually be returned to McMillan Marsh. Blanding's turtle eggs usually hatch in September.
The injured turtle will survive, but probably will be blind, Gibson said. The turtle might be used in a Blanding's turtle breeding project being conducted in northern Illinois to find out why the species is disappearing around the country.
Nesting has become more hazardous for Blanding's turtles in recent years because the development of housing surrounding the marsh has resulted in an increase in motorists driving on roads near the marsh, Zellmer said.
Blanding's turtles like to nest along roadsides, where they can dig into the ground to deposit eggs and the sunlight beats down on eggs to help them hatch, he said.
Zellmer wears a bug suit while he watches over the turtles lying, which usually begins at dusk and can last until 2 a.m. "It takes a lot of time to protect the nests sometimes," he said.
He protects the turtles and installs netting on metal rods to form a wall around the nests to keep raccoons and skunks from raiding them and humans from disrupting the process. He often places reflective tape and flags on the nests to warn motorists.
A decline in the Blanding's turtle population worries Zellmer and Bob Hay, who works as a cold-blooded species manager at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource's endangered resources program.
The turtle was placed on the state's threatened list in the late 1970s, Hay said. He worked with Zellmer several years ago to save turtle nests while improvements were made to the biking trail.
It takes a long time for Blanding's turtles to mature and give birth, usually at least 17 or 18 years, Hay said.
McMillan Marsh is among the top five wetlands in the state for Blanding's turtles, which surprises Zellmer.
"There's just something about McMillan Marsh; I don't know what it is, but it's a really good area for Blanding's turtles," he said.
It's still unknown what long-term effect housing development around the marsh will have on the turtles, Zellmer and Hay said.