Alligator Snapping Turtle Health

Allender Alligator Snapping Turtle VenipunctureThe last known alligator snapping turtle in Illinois was found in 1984 and thought to be extirpated from the state. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois Natural History Survey began reintroduction and recovery efforts in Illinois recently. We are collaborating on this project with the lead investigator, Dr. Mike Dreslik and his graduate student, Ethan Kessler to determine the health of the reintroduced population.

This year, 97 turtles were released back into the wild and over 60 had radio transmitters affixed to the carapace. These individuals had blood and oral swabs collected to determine overall health, but most importantly for the presence of ranavirus. Ranavirus is a fatal viral disease in fish, amphibians, and turtles occurring worldwide. Few reports of this virus exist in alligator snapping turtles, however, the introduction of this pathogen into the environment could have devastating effects on the recovery. Therefore, all turtles tested negative before they were released.

Alligator Snapping Turtle SamplingHealth assessments continue on these animals multiple times per year and will establish a comprehensive database of the health in this species over time.  This will allow us to correlate changes in health with other biological variables, such as the population ecology, demographics, spatial ecology, behavior, thermal biology, physiology, and population genetics.