Recaptured Blanding's Turtle May Be Oldest of Its Kind

The reptile may also be the oldest-known freshwater turtle.

<p>"3R11L" is estimated to be 83 years old. Photo Credit: Roy Nagle<span></span></p>

University of Michigan researchers got a nice surprise recently, when a Blanding's turtle first tagged and released in 1954 was recaptured in the school's forest reserve. At an estimated 83 years old, it's considered by scientists there to be the oldest well-documented turtle of its kind and among the oldest living freshwater turtles.

The turtle, a female, was captured some 25 miles northwest of Ann Arbor, Mich., in the university's Edwin S. George Reserve.

Long dubbed 3R11L, the reptile was first marked as part of a long-term turtle study initiated at the school. Its 1954 tagging was made in just the second year of the program.

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Scientists working on the reserve knew time was running short to recapture one of those 1950s turtles, so the find was welcome.

"We knew that we were down to fewer than 15 of the turtles that were marked in the 1950s," said turtle researcher Justin Congdon in a statement.

3R11L's age is based upon the fact that Blanding's turtles reach sexual maturity at about 20 years old. The turtle was already sexually mature in 1954, leading the researchers to peg the animal at at least 83 years of age.

According to Congdon, the last record-holder for oldest Blanding's was a 76-year-old turtle from Michigan, making 3R11L new champ by a healthy margin.

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What's more, the turtle may be with child. Or, with eggs.

Congdon said he thought he could feel soft shelled eggs inside of 3R11L.

"Reptiles basically reproduce until something kills them," Congdon explained. "So if it turns out that this individual is gravid, it would not come as a total surprise. Even so, this would be quite a bit older than has been documented in many other snakes and turtles."

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Any increase in Blanding's turtle numbers couldn't hurt. The North American animal is classified as endangered on the IUCN's "red list" of threatened species, its range based around the Great Lakes and extending east toward southerly parts of Ontario and upper New York State.

Known for its yellow chin and throat areas, the turtle can reach about 10 inches in shell length, and if indeed 3R11L is with eggs, she'll likely have a clutch of around eight eggs.

Of course, while 83 is an impressive age for a turtle, others, such as box, wood, and sea turtles are considered longer-lived. And that's not even counting the biggest longevity kahuna – giant tortoises. Those creatures, such as the famous tortoise Jonathan -- who just this spring, at 184 years old, had his first bath -- can live in some cases beyond 200 years old, although such claims are tough to verify.