Hey all you happy herps and hatchlings! This week was a bit of a blur but we’ll try to enhance the highlights for you. We were off to a strong start with our first experience with fieldwork without the supervision of our certified adult, Dr. Laura. We helped set out traps on Monday, collected some turtles on Tuesday and also did some tracking with radio telemetry. We were getting in a groove and solidifying our teamwork when we got exciting news relating to the Blanding’s turtle head-starting program.

Head-starting aims to help out the struggling Blanding’s turtle species by collecting eggs during nesting season, and then sending the hatchlings to a facility that will spend the year raising them up to a hefty weight of at least 30g. That is about the weight of 6 grapes, or 13 dimes, or 18 playing cards. Compared to wild turtles of their age-group, the head-starts are in a pretty high weight class. Their wild-raised counterparts will not reach a similar size for at least another year. This means they have a better chance for survival when they are released and can help add to the juvenile population of Blanding’s turtles.

Tuesday evening, we were told that there were 33 head-started turtles ready to come home to Kane County, receive identification, and be released. The big day started at 6am as Alexis was sent off to collect the turtles, while Michelle remained behind to check the traps we had set for the week. However, Alexis was not just picking up the baby turtles and coming right back. Travel and stress can alter blood chemistry, so all the physical exams and sample collection had to be done prior to transport. Alexis did 33 tiny physical exams on tiny turtles, drew 33 tiny blood samples, collected 33 tiny swab samples, and somehow managed not to be too distracted by their cuteness. Meanwhile Michelle braved the swamps, did not fall over at all, and processed the 4 turtles caught that day.

When Alexis returned with the turtles, they were set up with temporary homes while the day could truly begin. It was 8pm at night, and we had 33 blood samples that had to be processed as soon as possible. Alone in the shop for the night, we blasted music, chugged black coffee, and got to work. The long night was a testament to our bond because by the end of it we were still friends. Somewhere around 3am the joking around stopped and we got very quiet but kept working diligently and patiently with each other. At last, 5am rolled around and as the sun rose, we finished running the bloodwork on the very last sample. We had been awake for 23 hours and knew we needed to get ready to check traps again in a few hours, but we could not be happier. This was one long night for us, but hopefully our work will lead to long lives for the Blanding’s turtle species. You might call us crazy, or weirdos who don’t need sleep, or perhaps you will completely understand our passion when one of these baby turtles melts your heart for the first time, and the 1000th time.

Today, we watched some of the babies take their first small steps into the wild, and we cheered them the whole way!