Meet the Turtles of the Whitefish Chain

A snapping turtle, one of the species of turtles you'll find on and around the Whitefish Chain. Photo by Kate Perkins

Among the abundance of wildlife on the Whitefish Chain is a great collection of turtles- some common, some rather rare, and all interesting. You'll find them in the waters of the Whitefish Chain and the surrounding area, where they make their home and take their place in the natural web of life. We're listing a few you might run into or find fascinating.

Many of those turtles come out of their hibernation in the spring  to make their way to sandy soil to nest, which is where they can be seen on beaches, in gardens and on lake shores as they lay their eggs. Watch for them there and on roads, where sadly they sometimes meet their end. Why did the turtle cross the road? Probably to lay its eggs! Let's help them get there safely.

A nesting painted turtle. Photo by Kate Perkins

The Painted Turtle: 

These turtles are perhaps the most common on the chain, often seen sunning themselves on logs before they plop back into the water. Painted turtles are identified by their bright red and yellow shell, which looks as though it's been painted. Their head and legs have black and yellow stripes. Also called "mud turtles," the males can grow up to 7 inches long, while females will grow up to 10 inches long.

You'll also see painted turtles at the Nisswa Turtle Races (beginning June 6). Those painted turtles race for glory every Tuesday. You can also bring your own turtle to race.

A snapping turtle makes its nest on a rural roadside in Crosslake. Photo by Kate Perkins

Snapping Turtles:

The snapping turtle is Minnesota's largest turtle, measuring up to 14 inches across on its shell and weighing up to 35 pounds! Often the animal's shell seems to have a life of its own, covered in moss and algae. Think twice before you pick up one of these turtles, as their sharp beaks are very powerful and its neck can reach surprisingly far around its body.

According to the Minnesota DNR, the snapping turtle was was listed as a special concern species in the 1980s. It was believed that the threat to the turtles came from commercial harvesting (snapping turtles are harvested for their meat). Changes were made to the rules regarding turtle harvesting in 2004, and the turtle was delisted in 2013.

Blanding's Turtle

This turtle is listed at threatened in Minnesota, in part due to loss of habitat. The Blanding's turtle had been widespread across eastern and central US, but today Minnesota marks the northwesterly corner of its US territory. Sandy areas along the Mississippi, which the Whitefish Chain feeds via the Pine River, make habitat for the Blanding's turtle. While this turtle lives a long time- up to 70 years!- they are late to mature, have low mobility and high juvenile mortality rate (large numbers of young die before reaching adulthood). The Blanding's turtle has been listed as threatened since 1984.

Blanding's turtles are dark in color with a yellow underside to their jaw and neck. Their shells are also dark but have light colored, yellow spots. They grow to have a shell of about 6-10 inches. If you see one, consider yourself fortunate! And, be sure to let the turtle be so it can continue to live and reproduce.

As you spend time on and around the Whitefish Chain, keep an eye out for these fascinating turtle friends!

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