During the heat of summer, if you go to Mystery Lake or Boardwalk Pond, you will often see numerous turtles basking in the sun, clinging to the top of a log. Turtles are ectotherms, which means they are cold-blooded reptiles. Ectotherms have quick-running chemical reactions in their bodies when they are warm and slow-moving reactions when they are cold. This affects their movement and is the reason people see them in the sun on warm days.
One of the most distinctive qualities turtles share is their shell, which is made of keratin, just like our fingernails. Turtles can feel through their shell, which is an extension of their backbone and ribs. The shells have two parts, the carapace on top and the plastron below. We like to say turtles “carry their carapace” and their “plastron is plastered on” to their bellies.
Turtles Living at the Center
At least three of Wisconsin’s 11 turtle species live on Schlitz Audubon’s 185 acres. The most common turtle in Wisconsin is the Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta). Painted Turtles are most active in late spring through early fall, and their days are spent sunning and looking for food. Their diet consists of nearly any small aquatic creature or plant.
The Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydridae serpentia) has few predators once full grown, but has a challenging first year. Predation on eggs and the young is common from crows, raccoons, foxes, and snakes. Otherwise, snapper eggs are very adaptable. If the temperature is not suitable for them to hatch, the eggs can overwinter until a more hospitable season. During winter, Snapping Turtles do surprisingly well moving around underneath the ice.
Blanding’s Turtles (Emydoidea blandingii) are timid and if startled can spend hours at the bottom of a pond. Once they reach adulthood, they do not show signs of aging, and a 70 year old can be indistinguishable from a 20 year old. Blanding’s Turtles are a species of Special Concern in Wisconsin. This designation focuses attention on certain species before they become threatened or endangered. Because of this, our conservation team is currently monitoring Blanding’s Turtles at Schlitz Audubon.
When you visit our ponds, the number of turtles basking all at once may surprise you. The sight of turtles, wildlife, and plant life all together is a feast for the senses. Enjoy hiking at the Center this August to see a sometimes-sizeable population of these reptiles.