Ornate Box Turtle

Ornate Box Turtles are protected in 6 states in the Midwest, including Illinois, where they are listed as threatened. Today, Ornate Box Turtles in Illinois are restricted to small tracts of remnant prairie, open fields, or restored habitat, with Nachusa Grasslands one of the largest remaining in the state.

We are monitoring populations across their Illinois range to gather data for conservation planning:

      • baseline demographic data,
      • determining population viability,
      • identifying additional threats to the populations.
      • Nachusa has ~238–328 individuals,  corresponding to a density of ~2 turtles/ha.
      • 34 female turtles were radiographed during 2018 and 2019, with 28–38% gravid each year with 3–6 eggs (mean = 4.6).

Prescribed fires and the removal of woody species are necessary to maintain suitable  habitat,  but can also negatively impact the turtles. We are gathering data to inform the timing of these activities:

      • Turtles are more protected in their hibernation burrows
      • We monitored emergence and ingress at burrows
      • Turtles were active above ground as late as 26 October and emerging from brumation as early as 5 April.
      • At another site a single turtle made above ground movements as early as 27 March.
      • Continued monitoring is needed to develop predictive models for when Ornate Box Turtles emerge from brumation so that they are not at risk from prescribed burns.

Future projects should focus on nesting ecology and the impacts of  mesopredators, as these research areas have important conservation implications but remain largely unexplored.

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