Hatchlings Head to School

posted in: Local Conservation, Turtles | 0

It’s back-to-school season, and not just for kids! This year, we are raising over 100 threatened Blanding’s, wood, and spotted turtles in more than 30 Massachusetts schools. Classes give these hatchlings a “head start”, helping them to grow bigger and stronger before releasing them back out to the wild as part of turtle conservation programs. The first year of life is the most dangerous one for wild turtles, but research shows that turtles given this kind of head start have a 40x better chance of surviving to adulthood! 

A group of students gather around two rectangular feeding tubs with water and turtles in them, looking down at the turtles with their classroom in the background.

This is our 13th year headstarting rare turtles in classrooms. It started back in 2009 with just a few schools when Dr. Bryan Windmiller recruited his daughter’s fourth grade teacher and a few others to help him raise hatchling Blanding’s turtles from Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. Each year, more and more schools joined the program, until just before the Covid-19 pandemic we were working with over 40 different schools across eastern Massachusetts. Many schools, understandably burdened by the pandemic, had to step back from the program for a year. Although this year is still not fully “normal”, students AND turtles have returned to their classrooms.  

A hatchling spotted turtle is pressed flush against the glass side of an aquarium tank with its belly facing the camera and one foreleg raised as though waving. A plastic plant and decorative stone are visible in the tank behind it.
A spotted turtle hatchling shows off its plastron (underside shell) against the glass of the aquarium.

This year is also special because it’s the first year we’ll be raising spotted turtles in classrooms, with hatchlings born at the last known spotted turtle population in the city of Boston. Through funding from the Disney Conservation Foundation, we’ve been able to protect this urban turtle population as well as get urban schools in Boston involved in the HATCH program. Now, Boston students in five classrooms will be raising turtles from their own city and helping to give this population a fighting chance.