If you’re in the Arb this spring, particularly in the floodplain or near the banks of the Cannon River, there is a slim chance that you will see a Wood Turtle, also known by its Latin name Clemmys insculpta, a threatened species found in Minnesota.
This rare turtle has been hibernating all winter long and will reduce its metabolic rate again at the peak of summer’s heat, so spring is an ideal time to spot one.
Minnesota is the most western area of its observed range, which also stretches along most of the Eastern Seaboard from Virginia to Nova Scotia. Wood turtles remain from the last ice age, which ended 11,000 years ago, have been found as far south as Georgia. The last time that a Wood Turtle has been spotted in the Arb was on Arb Crew late spring last year and we often go several years between sightings.
It is a joyous occasion to spot a Wood Turtle in the field. The Arb Office has taken some steps to encourage Wood Turtle habitation in the Arboretum. About 15 years ago, contractors constructed Turtle Pond, a faux-oxbow lake near the Cannon River in the Lower Arb.
For reasons unknown, turtles have not heavily repopulated this area. So, the Arb Office is asking you for help if you are one of the lucky ones to come across a Wood Turtle. Wood Turtles have a unique, well-contrasting pattern on the underside of their shell. Each pattern is distinct for an individual, like a fingerprint.
The Arb Office would like more data about individual wood turtles. If you come across one, it would be appropriate to tenderly pick it up by its shell and briefly turn the whole turtle upside down to take a picture of its unique underside!
The Wood Turtle is a protected species and may not be kept as a pet. Turtles found in sandy areas may be nesting, so we ask that you not disturb this critical activity. Please send any pictures to Nancy Braker at the Arb Office, along with the date you saw the turtle and the location. And feel very special that the Wood Turtle has graced you with its presence!