This week we traveled to Stephen A. Forbes State Park with a group of 19 students in search of eastern box turtles. We started the week off by driving 2 hours to the field site with a caravan of 7 cars. After arriving at the field site around 8 am, we were met by a turtle already found on the road by John Rucker; a good sign for how the week was going to go. That day we found and worked up 19 turtles!
While some of the students stayed to hike back to return the turtles, the rest of us drove another 45 minutes to get to our campsite to set up our tents and start the lab work. Some of us worked on the lab work, some set up the tents, and others started prepping for dinner. We efficiently finished lab work after only 2 hours and Dr. Allender grilled burgers and hot dogs for dinner, while we sat around the campfire listening to stories.
The next day we found and worked up 27 turtles, along with a black rat snake that had suspicious lesions. That night we had delicious fajitas for dinner courtesy of a few students, Dr. Allender, and Dr. Philips, our state herpetologist. Based on the number of turtles we had already sampled and the thunderstorm that was predicted to roll through the following evening, it was decided that we would return to Champaign a day early. That night we packed up the lab and relaxed the rest of the evening, enjoying each others company. Some of us played cards, while others played board games by flashlight.
The next day proved to be extremely exciting as we caught the 200th turtle of the season! 200 turtles in 11 days had never been accomplished during Turtles Team before, and we could not have done it without the amazing turtle dogs. Watching Mink come around the corner with the 200th turtle in her mouth while we all cheered and yelled “turtle!” was a truly incredible experience to be a part of.
We ended up finding 15 turtles on the last day and 3 turtle shells. We can test the DNA from the shells for diseases too! The last day was also memorable, as we returned one of the WEL’s box turtle patients to her home. After she was found with injuries at Forbes in the fall, she was brought back to the lab for treatment and made a full recovery. Check out Megan Britton’s blog on Elle Woods, to hear about her story.
One of the lows for the week, were the bugs. Even with copious amounts of bug spray and showering, some of us still found attached ticks at the end of the day. You definitely did not want to have a light on in your tent at the end of the night either. Dr. Adamovicz and I, were also greeted by a giant spider hitching a ride in the SVU on the way to Forbes. That being said, it was all worth it to find turtles and help save the world!