It’s Turtle Graduation Season!

posted in: Local Conservation, Turtles | 0
A small tortoise wearing a crochet graduation cap and sitting on a wooden table. A small diploma scroll tied with red yarn sits in front of the tortoise.

With all the exciting programs we have going on overseas and the new developments in conservation, it’s important to also remember and mark the milestones in our longest-running efforts. May and June mark turtle graduation season for over one hundred baby turtles every year here at Zoo New England, and in honor of World Turtle Day today, we’d like to take an in-depth look at this year’s graduating cohort.

The turtles brought into our headstarting program, affectionately nicknamed H.A.T.C.H. (Hatchling And Turtle Conservation through Headstarting) come from several sites across eastern Massachusetts, including Andover, Concord, Medfield, Lowell, Boston, and more. Just about all of these turtles come from wild nests found and protected by our field team, who spend tireless days and nights tracking every female throughout the late spring and early summer until she lays eggs.

A black radiograph showing the white outline of a spotted turtle's body, including the oval shapes of four eggs inside her abdomen and the radio attached to the left side of her shell.
A radiograph of one of our Boston spotted turtles. Notice the four eggs waiting to be laid! This female was carefully followed for several days before her nest was found and protected.

After the eggs hatch and the babies are matched with a volunteer or school classroom, several months of carefully supervised care ensure the best possible outcomes for these rare and precious animals. Not only do they grow much larger than wild turtles their age, they also enjoy a 40x higher survival rate after release! The turtles are not the only ones who benefit, either; the students and volunteers who raise them become more informed and more engaged about the conservation of rare wildlife in their own backyards. Students get to accompany their turtles when they return to the wild on a “turtle release field trip,” and man volunteers also come with their turtles when it’s time for them to be released to see their new homes and wave farewell. Below are Luna and Sheldon, two juvenile wood turtles who were just returned to the wild after their class’ field trip today!

Two wood turtles, sit side by side facing the camera. The one on the left is paler and smaller than the one on the right. Both are sitting amidst reed canary grass in bright sunshine.
Luna (left) and Sheldon (right) settle into their new home after their class’ turtle release field trip.

This year, we’re releasing 111 Blanding’s turtles, 37 wood turtles, and 8 spotted turtles across all of our field sites. We’re also excited to have the first ever New Hampshire box turtles entering the headstarting program on a two-year release plan, meaning that they will graduate in 2024.