Curriculum Guide


Currently, local, state and federal governments do not have the resources or funding to permanently save many of the organisms currently on the Endangered Species list. Furthermore, school districts across the United States have adopted the Common Core State Standards which require students to employ a wide variety of skills and knowledge with real-world applications. Operation Endangered Species seeks to address the recognized needs of all agencies and also the plight of organisms threatened with extinction through the empowerment of students in classrooms across the state to cooperate, collaborate, and create a template which reaches across many disciplines, easily adapts to any endangered species, and creates a curriculum template for giving students the tools to take action.


Before you are allowed to possess any Illinois endangered or threatened species, you must complete and submit to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources an application permitting possession of the animal (see Appendix 1). You will be issued a formal permit which must be kept on file at the school. An annual report must be submitted to IDNR (see Appendix 2), and notification submitted if the turtle expires, or when it is collected for release into the wild.


By participating in Operation Endangered Species you are agreeing to help raise a wild animal which eventually will be released to the former, natural habitat of the species. The goal of Operation Endangered Species is to help raise animals that are independent and capable of hunting and feeding on their own, and have a healthy fear of their natural predators—including humans. Maximizing the chances these turtles will survive when released into the wild means that they must not be treated as a pet, or that their school environment resembles a zoo.

Turtles should be placed in a secluded corner of a classroom, and, when feasible, a natural screen placed between the aquarium and the classroom. Contact with the turtles should be minimized, and a schedule established for contact and observation periods.


Supplies that are essential to the success of raising an alligator snapping turtle:

  • Aquarium-grade tank – 30 x 18 x 12 inches, or larger, such as the Tetra Fauna Deluxe Repto Habitat
  • Tank substrate – needs to be larger than turtle’s eyes or no smaller than a centimeter in diameter
  • Aquarium grade light with timer – make sure there is no more than 12 hours of light in a day.
  • Tank Filtration – such as the Tetra Fauna Deluxe Repto Habitat Filter
  • Heater – needs to regulate the temperature between 21-26.7 degrees Centigrade (70-80 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Thermometer – in centigrade that is able to be read without removing from tank.
  • Aquarium grade water – may use tap water if chlorine is removed. Use of a water conditioner will remove chlorine and neutralize chloramines, chemicals which will immediately affect bait, and ultimately will affect the turtles (see Care Guide). Water from the outdoors cannot be used as such water can cause algae blooms.
  • Power supply (extension cord which supplies access to power)
  • Padlock
  • Webcam (optional)
  • Brick, rock or small log for turtle to wedge itself under
  • Live food. The Alligator Snapping Turtle is a species that prefers live food. A unique adaptation of the AST’s is their red mouth lure which wiggles to draw its prey in to the range of the turtle’s powerful bite. Food preferences include, but are not limited to, fish, frogs, tadpoles and small crayfish. Food selection will evolve as your turtle grows. With that being said, a good rule of thumb would be that the food source be no bigger than three times the size of your turtles head.
  • Calipers for taking measurements
  • Electronic balance scale for taking weights


Follow the process below to set up the turtles’ aquarium

  1. Select a suitable classroom location for the tank. Preferably, the tank should not be in a high-traffic area, but rather a secluded back corner with a natural screen, if possible. The ideal location will ensure that the turtles are not continually exposed to students, but contact is minimized to maintain the wild nature of the turtle.
  2. Assemble the tank.
  3. Clean and sanitize the tank only with warm water (see Care Guide).
  4. Install the filter, heater and thermometer.
  5. Evenly distribute the substrate across the bottom of the tank.
  6. Add aquarium-grade (de-chlorinated) water.
  7. Install the aquarium-grade light.
  8. Turn on the heater and filter, and make sure the thermometer is operating correctly.
  9. Once the temperature has reached the appropriate range (21.1-26.7 degrees Centigrade), you may add your turtles and their companion food. At least two live fish (or other suitable live food items) per turtle are necessary.


Keep turtle healthy by doing the following:

  • Clean the turtle tank weekly by wiping down the glass with an aquarium glass scraper or sponge.
  • Do not use any detergents, chemicals, vinegar or bleach to clean your tank.
  • While cleaning your tank, place the turtle in another clean tank, or a 5-gallon bucket or cooler with a lid. Add aquarium-grade water to partially cover the turtle’s shell. The turtle must be able to stick its head above the water to breathe.
  • Change the tank water bi-monthly, or more frequently as needed, using de-chlorinated water.
  • Keep tank out of sunlight to help reduce algae production.
  • Check the turtle filter weekly and make sure it is clean and in good working condition.
  • Never exceed twelve (12) hours of daylight in a day.
  • Take weekly weight measurements on an electronic balance and shell measurements using calipers.
  • Record weight and length measurements on the OES-AST Google Doc.
  • Make sure the food in the tank is alive (ex. goldfish, frogs, small crayfish, tadpoles, minnows, earthworms).
  • You can wear latex gloves if you wish when handling the turtles.
  • If you notice partially eaten food in the tank, remove if not consumed after one day.
  • AST’s are not a basking turtle (sunning themselves on logs or rocks, like turtles typically seen around Illinois lakes and rivers) but they will wedge themselves under structures. Alligator Snapping Turtles in nature wedge themselves under a structure, such as a rock or submerged log. A brick, rock or small log in the aquarium will serve a similar purpose. Do not worry about excavating beneath the structure as the turtle is capable of doing that for itself.
  • Make sure the maintenance staff is aware of your AST’s and the importance of not using cleaners and chemicals around them.


Follow these safety procedures when handling the turtles:

  • Have tank under supervision or locked at all times.
  • Keep fingers and hands out of water when not trying to grab the turtle.
  • Always have adult supervision when handling turtles.
  • Always correctly hold the turtle – grab the turtle from behind with your hand out of reach of the turtle’s mouth.
  • Never drop the turtle or allow it to hit a hard surface.
  • Keep all fingers and hands away from mouth of turtle (they will bite!).


If you suspect your turtle has suffered any illness or injury, or you suspect it needs any medical treatment, IMMEDIATELY call Illinois Department of Natural Resources Endangered Species Manager Joe Kath at (217) 785-8764, (217) 299-9386 (cell) or


Mortality of classroom AST’s is extremely rare.  However, in the event that your turtle should expire, do not dispose of the turtle. Place it in a sealed container, put the container in a freezer and IMMEDIATELY contact Joe Kath (217/785-8764; 217/299-9386 cell; Mr. Kath will update your Endangered Species Possession Permit to note the turtle’s death. Biologists will make arrangements to collect the frozen turtle and examine it to determine the cause of death.


Remember, you are handling an endangered species and a wild animal. Anytime anyone handles a turtle, feeds them or cleans their habitat, they should wash their hands with hot, soapy water, or use an alcohol-based antiseptic to minimize any salmonella bacteria present. While not necessary, latex gloves can be worn when handling your ASTs as an additional precaution.

Finally, please check with your administrator about liability insurance.


Document created by the students of Mr. Soares’ 2011-2012 Rhetoric II course:

Xaviaer Durousseau
Alexis Fedder
Jorden Grieff
Madison Grundler

Jack Hoving
Neil Lambert
Garret Lyons
Grace Lyons

Chloe Mayback
Jessica Ping
Ethan Putnam

Baylee Ritter

Micheil Shelby
Jordan Triplett
Amy Wyant


Contributions by:

Travis Hastings
Joe Kath
Paul Ritter
Mike Soares
Kathy Andrews Wright

Edited by

Mike Soares
Kathy Andrews Wright