Utility Links


Illinois Turtles - Early Childhood Edition

The Basics
Turtles are reptiles.
Turtles have a shell and no teeth.
The shell has as many as 60 bones. It has two sections: a carapace, covering the animal's back, and a plastron, covering its belly. 
Most Illinois turtles can pull their head and neck into the shell.
Turtles usually have a tail.
The largest Illinois turtle is the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii). The biggest one ever found in our state weighed about 160 pounds.
The smallest Illinois turtle is the spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata). Its greatest recorded shell length in Illinois is 4.7 inches.
Turtles are found statewide in Illinois. Some turtle species live in specific habitats. For example, the eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina) is a woodland species, and the ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata) is a prairie species. Rivers are the favored habitat of the smooth softshell turtle (Apalone mutica), alligator snapping turtle and northern map turtle (Graptemys geographica). Blanding's turtles (Emydoidea blandingii) are commonly associated with marshes. Mud turtles visit temporary ponds or wetlands, while the eastern musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) resides in permanent water. The snapping turtle, painted turtle (Chrysemys picta), pond slider (Trachemys scripta) and spiny softshell (Apalone spinifera) turtle thrive in a variety of habitats and conditions.
Most Illinois turtles eat any plant or animal material they can find. Some turtles eat mainly animals. Diets of certain species change with age. For example, young pond sliders eat insects. Adult pond sliders, however, eat more plants than any other food type.
Reptiles produce young in eggs with a leathery shell. In turtles, the eggs are deposited on land in a nest, usually a hole in the ground scooped out with the female turtle's back feet. After egg-laying, the female uses her back feet to pull dirt into the hole and pack it down. Most Illinois turtles lay oval eggs, but softshells and snapping turtles lay spherical eggs. Small species, such as the spotted turtle, may lay only three to five eggs in a nest, while the larger snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) lays 20 to 40 eggs.

 Educator Suggestions

1. Use the Illinois’ Natural Resources Trading Cards to have the students find photos of turtles. Talk about what traits make a turtle a turtle.
2. Watch the Illinois Turtles video podcast with the students.
3. Have the students look at Illinois turtles photos from any of the following sources: Kids for Conservation® March 2017 “Look at Me!” page; Illinois Turtles poster; Illinois’ Natural Resources Trading Cards.  Students should be able to point out traits that were discussed.
4. Use the information presented above and the following suggestions to help you meet some of the Benchmarks of the Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards. Please do not be limited by these suggestions or by these Standards. The information can be used in several subject areas.
Goal 11, Learning Standard 11.A: Develop beginning skills in the use of science and engineering practices, such as observing, asking questions, solving problems and drawing conclusions.
Have the students develop questions about turtles that were not answered in the text or video. Let them build models to represent their ideas. If applicable, let them test the ideas and collect data. Involve math and computations skills. Describe the results and provide explanations.
Students want to know what happens to turtles in the winter.
Ask the students to talk about what they think turtles might do in winter. Have them draw pictures representing some of the ideas. Discuss reasons why the ideas may or may not be feasible. Conduct some research with the students to find facts about turtles in winter or ask an expert from a local nature center to speak to the students about the issue. If the students need to modify their original ideas, let them do so.
Goal 12, Learning Standard 12.A: Understand that living things grow and change.
Goal 12, Learning Standard 12.B: Understand that living things rely on the environment and/or others to live and grow.
If possible, have the students observe turtles in the wild. It may be easiest for them to watch turtles at an aquatic habitat as the turtles are basking on logs or on the shore. If it is not possible, show them a video of turtles. Let the students tell you what they notice about these animals. What type of animals are they? Why did they select that category? Do they seem to live in groups or alone? If you can observe the adults and young, either in person or from video, the students can describe differences and similarities between the adults and young. By watching these animals, students will be able to describe some of their basic needs and learn to respect these creatures.
Goal 13, Learning Standard 13.A: Understand rules to follow when investigating and exploring.
Goal 13, Learning Standard 13.B: Use tools and technology to assist with science and engineering investigations.
If you are going to observe turtles in person with the students, they should be aware of safety rules that must be followed. These are wild animals. They should not be fed from students’ hands. They should not be touched. You should stay far enough away to watch them without disturbing them. Talking should be in low tones. There should be no yelling or throwing. See this Web page for more information about taking students on a field trip.
Depending on what questions the students develop and test, they may need to use scientific and technological tools to help them discover the answers.