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There’s a new turtle on our team, and he is very pretty! Well, by turtle standards, anyway.

We recently acquired a painted turtle to add to our crew of critter ambassadors for their kind, and he is the most colorful turtle at the Homer Lake Interpretive Center.

He is fairly young, only 2 or 3 years old, and had been previously owned, so he could not be released back into the wild.

He joins our other painted turtle to help staff with programs that educate schoolchildren and the general public about the importance of these creatures and the value of preserving their habitats. Having two turtles for this job means they can alternate days being out and about interacting with people in programs. That way, they can have a rest day in between if it is a super busy week.

His process for joining our turtle team was strategic. Staff member Cathy Schneider, who heads up the center’s education animal caretaking, did a lot of research to ensure the best methodology possible. The process included a quarantine period, a veterinary check to determine health and gender, and a gradual introduction to the other turtles to see how they would all get along.

We are excited to say that he fit right in! It’s amazing to see the personalities that turtles show, and he is one of the calmest and sweetest turtles staff have ever seen.

Our turtles also got an upgrade in their living space this fall. Previously housed in separate smaller aquariums, they are now housed in one large enclosure that provides more room for swimming, basking and interacting with each other. These are important for their health as well as their mental enrichment.

This new enclosure was made possible by generous donations through our Animal Advocate program.

Last but definitely not least is the third turtle in the tank, our red-eared slider. He is over 30 years old and has delighted thousands of children over the years. Aquatic turtles can live several decades, so they are definitely a long-term commitment! His red “ears” have long since faded to a dark brick color, and he is now retired from doing programs.

When you visit, you can still see him in the tank, where we will care for him throughout his retirement. He really enjoys scratching his back on the platform inside the aquariums; it was the first thing he did when we introduced him to the tank!

The slider and new painted turtle have acclimated well to each other; the painted turtle will sometimes follow the slider around! Our other painted turtle is still getting used to having others around, and so for now, he is separated from them by a porous screen where he can see but not reach them.

Be sure to stop by to check out their antics and enjoy seeing these amazing critter ambassadors up close. They look forward to seeing you!

Pam Leiter is assistant director of the museum and education department at the Champaign County Forest Preserve District. She manages the Homer Lake Interpretive Center and oversees the environmental programming throughout the district. Email her at

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