CHICAGO (CBS) — A group of 18 turtles was burrowing its way to a new future, after getting a head start at Lincoln Park Zoo.

WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports the year-old turtles were hatched from eggs provided by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, from the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge near Savanna.

They were released Friday morning at the Ayers Sand Prairie State Nature Preserve near Savanna, along the Iowa border. Zoo curator Diane Mulkerin said the nest of 18 ornate box turtles pretty much ate all winter long, so have grown much faster than they would in the wild.

“If they were hatched out in the wild, this year they would still not be much bigger than a quarter, but the fact that we raised them here, and they didn’t hibernate, and we fed them for a full year, they’re probably now about the size of a three- to four-year old box turtle,” she said.

The turtles now have 4,000 acres to set up housekeeping.

“In northwestern Illinois, there’s some of the largest sand prairie habitat left in the state,” she said.

Mulkerin suggested the turtles’ needs are rather simple.

“Even though these are box turtles, they are terrestrial, so they are just released out in the prairie, in the habitat,” she said.

Mulkerin said it will be about ten years before scientists know if the ornate box turtle population is established to the point of breeding.

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