Week 2: 98 turtles (so far)!

Our second week has been phenomenal! John went with Gary (Lake County Forest Preserve’s wildlife biologist) and Sam (wildlife life biologist tech) to Field Site 1, while Lauren went with Callie (wildlife biologist master’s student), Emma (wildlife biologist tech) and Veronica (wildlife biologist tech) to Field Site 2. We are alternating field sites each week so that we get to experience both locations and have the opportunity to work with all the awesome biologists on Turtle Crew 2017. At lunch Friday with Turtle Crew we shared our highs and lows and thought it would be fun to start sharing those in our blogs! It’s pretty hard to come up with lows but we will do our best. So far this season there have been 98 unique Blanding’s turtles our team has hand captured or trapped (a huge high for everybody)! At this rate, we are going to have to make another trip to Champaign for more sampling tools. Bring it on, Blanding’s!

 

John at Field Site 1

It has been a great week to take the training wheels off and collect/run all of the samples ourselves without the guidance we had from Marta last week (although we still miss her ): )! Everything ran smoothly because of how well we were prepared and it has been a blast to put our new skills to the test! Field Site 1 has areas that have been managed for Blanding’s turtles for a long time now and Gary has been tracking some of the turtles at these locations for years! It is incredible how well he knows their habits such as where they can usually be found, what other turtles they can be found near, and some of their favorite nesting locations. Each turtle seems to have a territory where it spends most of its time but when a Blanding’s decides it is time to nest, they can make journeys of 2 – 3 miles to find the right spot to lay their eggs! Nesting, however, won’t take place for a few more weeks so we will focus on that more in a future blog.

This week mostly involved checking traps for turtles, getting samples from the turtles with transmitters, and as always, looking for any new turtles we randomly come across (referred to as hand captures). We have a running tally of how many hand captures everyone has and being the highly motivated scientists that we are, we of course turned it into a competition. The traps were a little disappointing this week with not as many turtles in them as we would have liked but the cold and rainy weather may have discouraged them from excessive movement. We did finish collecting samples on the turtles we are tracking for the month though! We only want to sample the turtles we track once a month so that we don’t deplete their blood supply in a way that could affect their health. Also, spacing out our sampling of these turtles could provide us with interesting data about the pathogen load and blood composition of these turtles over time during the nesting season.

John’s Highs and Lows

High: My “high” for this week was definitely my TWO HAND CAPTURED TURTLES that I about kissed when I found them because I was so excited!! The first one I found was sitting on top of some dead reeds just waiting for me to come pick her up! She was a small fry but since she was my first hand capture, Gary allowed me to name her. I decided that this summer all of the turtles that I name will be named after characters from the TV show “The Office” and so my first turtle was named Phyllis. My second hand capture was sitting under the water right next to one of our traps. Their camouflaged shells are so good at keeping them hidden, that had he not been right next to a trap, I never would have seen him.

Low: At this point I have had turtles pee on my bag, on my sample cooler, on my waders and on my hands. But this week, I was taking a turtle from a trap up to a dry area to collect samples so I put her in the inside, front pouch of my waders so that I had a free hand to catch me if I fell. When I got up to the dry spot, I found that the turtle had peed in my pouch which, it being waterproof, didn’t bother me because I knew it couldn’t leak through. The problem was when I tried to flip my INSIDE, front pouch up to empty out the pee, I forgot to zip up my OUTSIDE, front pouch that had my phone in it…… So yeah, getting turtle pee all over my phone was definitely the low point of the week. Nolvasan disinfectant spray can remove the germs from my phone, but it can never remove the memory of seeing my phone coated in pee (the phone still works though).

 

Lauren at Field Site 2

I am getting my technique in the field down and am beginning to feel more confident that every time we find a turtle I can work it up in about 15 minutes – this includes obtaining weight, photos, measurements, physical exam, blood draw and swabs. We averaged about 4 turtles per day at “Field site 2”. This is a new site that has not been granted access for research in past years, so we do not know how many Blanding’s turtles are here (which makes finding them all-the-more exciting)!  Each new turtle we found this week was given notches, and if over 250 grams (or in special circumstances) a name. New adult females were all given a GPS transmitter to continue monitoring through nesting season and in future years. Because this a new site and we are unsure of the amount of turtles here, some of the males we found were also given transmitters in hopes of leading us to females. Ultimately, the biologists’ goal is to obtain eggs from the females they are tracking to raise and develop in captivity until they are at least 40 grams and at which point they are then re-released. This weight is estimated to provide a better survival rate in the wild. One of the contributions to Blanding’s turtle endangerment is their late sexual maturity (14-20 years in age). If these turtles can be provided with a head-start and better juvenile survival rate, it may allow more turtles to reach sexual maturity and successfully reproduce, improving population numbers.

Friday was the best day ever for the crew at Field Site 2 – we each got to name an adult Blanding’s turtle! Turtles are deemed “name-able” after they weigh over 250 grams; this name is used in the database for future identification, along with notches filed into the shell and carapace/plastron/face photos. Veronica named her trap-caught male Caeser, Callie named her trap-caught male Zar, Emma named her trap-caught male Hippo, and I named my second hand-capture of the season Esprit. We have found a lot of males in this new site and hope to find those females in the upcoming weeks before nesting season at the end of June!

Lauren’s Highs and Lows

High: Getting TWO hand captures, one big and one small! My first hand capture was itty-bitty and I named her Khaleesi – this was one of those special naming circumstances. I found her at Field Site 1. We had powered through all of our traps and met up with the rest of the crew at the first site. John and I were returning what we thought was the last turtle of the day, when little Khaleesi basking on a pile of brush reeds caught my eye! It was so exciting I threw my arms up and screamed right there. My second hand-capture was Esprit, who I came across simply by accident. I was attempting to catch up to Emma and Veronica who were ahead of me checking traps and I went into the site at the wrong spot – this happens to me sometimes as I am still learning the areas and where exactly to enter into the tall brush areas. I was walking on the opposite side of the marsh with traps and Esprit was walking along the bank in all her glory. It is almost like I was meant to get lost and find her. We aged her to be at least 15 years old! She clenched my heart and gave her a name after my first family dog. 

Low: Realizing on the way to the turtle building that all the lab equipment was in my car… and we were driving John’s car that day. Our resident house is about 25 minutes from the turtle building where we meet every morning prior to dispersing to our sites. We had brought up some new and additional equipment from school last weekend for lab work and had put it all in my trunk. Monday morning came around and we jumped in John’s car to head out and we both felt like we were forgetting something but could not figure out what. About half way there we realized my cooler was in my trunk, along with all the other equipment! It ended up being more funny than anything, and just made the scenic morning drive a little longer.

 

Keep following to see how many more turtles we can find!

By | 2017-08-09T10:09:31+00:00 May 28th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

About the Author:

John and Lauren are rising second-year veterinary students spending the summer analyzing the health of the Blanding's turtle, a state endangered species.