A crucial part of turtle team are the turtle dogs and their owner, John Rucker.
We use a highly trained canine search team of Boykin Spaniels to find the turtles and safely bring them to us. Without these talented dogs and their amazing owner, we would not be able to find as many turtles as we do. This year there are 7 total dogs with 3-5 dogs searching in the field each day. Be sure to check out our “Meet the Turtle Dogs” blog coming soon.
While searching in the Nachusa Grasslands, the site manager was kind enough to give us a place to stay and set up our lab. As part of the lab work, we perform a complete blood cell count and plasma processing for all of the turtles that are large enough to draw blood from. Later in the summer we will perform PCR on the swab samples and whole blood samples for pathogen detection. These tests help us to characterize the health of the turtles.
Starting the week off with chocolate-chip turtle-shaped pancakes for good luck, we ended up findig and sampling 88 turtles in total for the week!
A typical day would include waking up early in the morning to pack up the supplies needed in the field that day, then driving to the field and setting up our sampling site. We would then hike for about 2-3 hours with the dogs and search for turtles. Each turtle was given a temporary ID number followed by a lab ID number in the field. GPS coordinates, habitat descriptions, and time of capture were recorded for each turtle. After the hike was over, we returned to our sampling tent to weigh each of the turtles, collect blood from their subcarapacial sinus, swab their mouth and cloaca, perform physical exams, take heart rates using a doppler, and record their body temperature using a thermography camera. We also took demographic measurements of each turtle before releasing them in the exact location we found them. Following their release, we returned to the lab to process all of the blood samples. All of the Turtle Team days are run in a similar manner.
The evenings were spent processing the blood work, recording all of the data from the day, disinfecting all of the equipment, and preparing for the next field day. We also enjoyed the beautiful scenery that surrounded us as the sun began to set.
The highlight of the week for me was finding the first turtle of the trip! While walking through the field to set up our sampling tent, I found an ornate box turtle staring up at me walking along the path. As evident in the picture, it was hard to contain my excitement. That first day we found 32 ornate box turtles! Several incidental (non-canine) finds occurred throughout the week, including my second turtle find on the third day. On the last day we had the opportunity to search in a field that the WEL had not searched in before. After the bison were quickly corralled to field a safe distance away, we were able to search in the new field for a couple of hours
and found 14 turtles to end the trip!
We then made the long trip home to Champaign to finish the blood work. Stay tuned for more turtle adventures to come!
Every once in a while, there is an “incidental” turtle finding meaning people find it instead of the dogs. We’ve decided to keep track of how many turtles and ticks we find this summer so we’ll be keeping count!