The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that a species of turtle with declining population range may qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The Blanding's turtle is an elongated turtle characterized by bright yellow chin. It has a helmet-shaped profile having a dark brown or black top shell with pale yellow speckles. Adults typically measure from 18-26 cm with the mature males being larger compared with the females and have concave plastron, or under shell, which facilitates mating.

Although the turtles are generally long-lived, they do not start to reproduce until they are at least 12 years old; they also don't lay a lot of eggs. Scavengers that are good at finding the turtle's eggs also tend to follow people when they move into the turtle's habitat and some adult turtles have no place to nest so they cannot reproduce and die out eventually.

The species is also threatened by being run over by trucks and motor vehicles. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said that many Blanding's turtle get killed each year when they cross roads as they migrate between wetlands.

In response to a petition from environmental advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that that it will begin a formal assessment to determine if the Blanding's turtle and 20 other reptiles and amphibians in various parts of the U.S. including the green salamander and spotted turtle should be protected under the Endangered Species Act as the listing could provide these creatures with greater protection that could help boost their chances for survival.

The Center's first petition for these species was in July 2012 because of habitat loss and other factors that pose threats for their survival.

Although the turtles are illegally collected for pet trade, Collette Adkins, a lawyer and biologist with the Center said that the loss of their distinct habitat is the main driver that causes the decline of the turtle's population.

"These turtles and salamanders are irreplaceable parts of the wild where they live, whether it's a remote mountain stream or a suburban wetland," Adkins said. "Losing them will impoverish those places and our own connection with the natural world."

Adkins pointed out that there is scientific consensus that the animals face human-driven possibilities for extinction, which need prompt action and that the Endangered Species Act is the best tool for saving these rare amphibians and reptiles.

Photo: Brunop | Flickr

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