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After being tracked for two years, DeKalb County turtle goes missing

DeKALB – One of the most famously slow and plodding creatures in the animal kingdom has proved surprisingly elusive to local wildlife researchers.

For about two years, Northern Illinois University’s Department of Biological Science has been tracking a male Blanding’s turtle at Afton Forest Preserve using an antenna and transmitter attached to his shell with a safe adhesive. Blanding’s turtles are endangered in Illinois, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resource’s checklist of threatened or endangered plants and animals issued in May.

But the turtle, possibly on a plodding prowl for female turtles, has gone missing. When the reptile wandered about two miles south off the preserve recently, a local resident’s attempt at goodwill ended the connection, said Al Roloff, natural resource manager with the DeKalb County Forest Preserve District.

The turtle had been missing from the preserve for six weeks before officials found out about the antenna, Roloff said.

“A farmer in the area thought it was a piece of wire that punctured the inside of the shell,” he said. “The farmer pulled the wire thinking he was doing a good deed. He pulled the antenna off the turtle.”

In summer 2013, the turtle – which could be 80 years old – was found almost two miles away from Afton preserve. At the request of IDNR officials, he was moved to the marshy area of the preserve, and NIU began tracking him in the kind of environment he needs, but one that is dwindling across the state.

Blanding’s turtles grow to nearly a foot long and easily are identifiable by their yellow undersides.

Collin Jaeger, Ph.D, a laboratory coordinator for the biology department at NIU, had been involved with the project in some capacity since the beginning, even going out to the site to help work on the radio transmitter. Last summer, the turtle was taken to officials in DuPage County to have the transmitter battery replaced.

“We were trying to determine with this particular [turtle] if it was happy and healthy in a safe environment like Afton,” Jaeger said. “Afton is probably one the best examples of a natural area in DeKalb County, of which there are very few.”

He said finding the turtle now would be like “finding a needle in a haystack” because it’s too far from its antenna and transmitter.

For most of the two years, the turtle stayed within Afton Forest Preserve. But last summer, it wandered away for a month before eventually returning within antenna range, Roloff said.

“They’re known for wandering,” he said. “If it’s the single male on site, they’ll wander off site looking for females.”

While the study is a bust now, there was plenty to take away from it, Jaeger said.

“It’s a good example of different agencies working together,” he said. “We had state, county and university collaborating. It didn’t work out as we all hoped, but I think people learned a lot, at least, about how to work together when issues come up.”

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