Frequently Asked Questions


Where do we obtain the food?

You have a variety of options for acquiring food.


You can purchase goldfish and minnows from a pet store for 10-30 cents each. A dozen minnow will cost about $2.

Rearing Bait

Some schools have a second aquarium in the classroom and allow the goldfish and minnows to breed, providing a nearly self-sustaining supply of turtle prey.

Collecting From Nature

According to the 2013-2015 Illinois Fishing Regulations book, persons possessing a valid fishing license may take minnows with cast nets (not larger than 8 feet in diameter and have a mesh size not larger than 3/8 inch bar measurement), shad scoops (no larger than 30 inches in diameter or longer than 4 feet in length and having a bar mesh size not larger ½ inch), or a minnow seine (no longer than 20 feet in length, deeper than 6 feet or having a mesh size larger than ½ inch bar measurement), or a trap not more than 36 inches in length, 24 inches in width, and with mesh no larger than ½ inch bar measurement.

According to the 2013-2015 Illinois Fishing Regulations book, a sport fishing license is required to take bullfrogs. Bullfrogs may be taken by hook and line, gig, pitchfork, spear, bow and arrow, hand or landing net. No person shall take bullfrogs or any other reptile or amphibian by commercial fishing devices, including hoop nets, traps or seines or by the use of firearms, air guns or gas guns. All other species of unprotected reptiles and amphibians may only be taken by hand. This shall not restrict the use of legally taken reptiles or amphibians as bait by anglers. Bullfrogs may be taken only between June 15 and August 31, both dates inclusive. The daily limit for bullfrogs is 8 with a possession limit of 16. For indigenous amphibian and reptile taxa, which my only be taken by hand (excluding common snapping turtles and bullfrogs), the possession limit is 8 collectively with no more than 4 per taxa.

According to the 2013-2015 Illinois Fishing Regulations book, crayfish, except endangered or threatened species, may be taken for bait, using legal sized cast nets, shad scoops and minnow seines, provided that they are not sold or bartered. All cast nets shall not be larger than 8 feet in diameter or of a mesh size not larger than 3/8 inch bar measurement. All shad scoops shall not be larger than 30 inches in diameter or of a mesh size not larger than ½ inch bar measurement or long than 4 feet in length. Minnow seines shall not be longer than 20 feet, deeper than 6 feet or contain mesh size larger than ½ inch bar measurement. Crayfish may be collected wit traps of metal screen or hardware cloth, plastic or nylon mesh or netting. Such traps may not be more than 24 inches in width or diameter or more than 36 inches in length nor use a mesh of more than ½ inch bar measurement. Each entrance aperture may not exceed 1 ½ inches in diameter. If unattended, such devices must be tagged with the name and mailing address of the person operating the device. Crayfish collected in such devices may only be taken for personal use and may not be sold or bartered. Collected live crayfish may not be transported between water bodies.


What do alligator snapping turtles eat, how much and how often?

The amount of food a turtle will eat varies depending on their rate of growth and competition with other turtles in the aquarium. In the wild, turtles do not eat every day, and an adult could survive on one or two meals a year if it had to. Turtles may only eat one live food item a week, but you should have two or three live food items in the tank for each turtle. Do not be alarmed if your turtle doesn’t immediately eat; it may sit for days or even a week or two without eating. They’ll eat when they are hungry.
Natural foods are highly recommended over artificial pellet foods (providing pellets will not help the turtle learn to hunt for itself, therefore have the ability to survive in the wild). Foods can include goldfish, minnows, frogs, tadpoles of all sizes, small crayfish and earthworms.
Alligator snapping turtles are an ambush predator and will lie-in-wait for their prey to come into range.

Getting Started

How do we get our turtle?

Operation Endangered Species coordinators will contact you to make arrangement for you to pick up your turtle, or delivery, once your Endangered Species Possession Permit Application has been received, approved and the permit issued. You should plan to have acquired all the necessary equipment when you submit the application to ensure you are ready to accept delivery of your turtle.

Health & Safety

History of Your Turtle

Where did my turtle come from?

The turtles being reared through Operation Endangered Species come from a variety of sources—the St. Louis Zoo, Tishamingo National Fish Hatchery (Oklahoma), Brookfield Zoo and the Peoria Zoo. All turtles placed in the classroom were born in captivity. The adults used for the breeding program may have come from the wild, or were captive-reared turtles that had reached breeding age.

Turtle Behavior

Turtle Habitat

What is aquarium-grade water?

Aquarium-grade water is tap water treated with a product that removes chlorine and chloromines. Water treatment products can be purchased at stores selling pet supplies. In March 2013, prices at two locations were:

Price    Bottle size    Gallons of tap water that can be treated
$7.22    8.45 ounces    250
$9.99    16 ounces    9,460
$10.99    16 ounces    940
$12.99    16 ounces    940

Is any other equipment recommended?

A battery backup is encouraged, if finances allow. One of the challenges of having animals in an Illinois classroom is that you can have a few days without supervision and that you have the potential of losing power during a snowstorm (which gets a school pretty darn cold). A battery backup (like those used for computers) would supply power for 12-24 hours in case the school loses power during a storm. While a backup is not essential, if you have the means, it is great.

How large should the aquarium be for rearing turtles?

Turtles should have as large as a habitat as feasible. Turtle growth rates are dependent upon food, temperature and space. A large habitat will help the turtles grow as quickly as possible while still maintaining excellent health.