2016 Mountaintown box turtle wrap up

We’re guessing  that the neighborhood box turtles are all hunkered down by now for a long winter’s nap. As we crunch the numbers for our annual state and federal reports, we thought the neighborhood would like to read some of our results. Dawn has compiled some interesting data points for us. We’ll share some of these in upcoming weekly posts.

Hopefully all our turtles found safe places for their brumation (reptilian winter rest period)
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The return of ABJ!

He’s back!

Back and looking healthier!

Some of you may recall ABJ, who we found in August, 2015. He was a big male with what appeared to be a bigger problem –

That was one really ugly leg!

His left leg was so swollen that he was unable to withdraw it into his shell. That problem, in turn, prevented him from shutting his shell to protect his head and front limbs. The swelling and absence of at least two toes indicated a serious infection. It wasn’t a promising situation. It was hard to imagine that he’d survive the winter if he were very ill and incapable of shielding his head and forelegs from predators while he brumated. 

We’re now pleased to report that he turned up last night, and his leg is looking much better! He has a little weight loss. That may actually be due to the reduced swelling. The healing abilities of these little guys is remarkable. He was only about 90 feet from where he was found in 2015. He was weighed, measured, and sent back on his way. Good luck, ABJ! 

Slow September follows a quiet August

Not much turtle goodness at all in the past couple of months. This guy –

Our first – and perhaps only – turtle in September

Popped up on September 11, in the morning after two waves of thundershowers passed through in the preceding evening. Indeed, we haven’t found a live turtle since July although we had a report of one. We did encounter one dead one that was too crushed to identify. 

We suspect there may be several reasons for the slow-down. The turtles may be traveling less if their focus has shifted from reproduction to building fat stores for winter. The drought may have forced them to remain within the refuge of creek bottoms, where water is easily found, instead of moving to higher ground where they might be seen on roads. They’re all questions that we want to explore in coming years. Meanwhile, we’ll enjoy pondering over the answers while we move these guys off the road.

ABL is a…mom?!

“Is there something you want to tell us, ABL..?”

You read that correctly! Kathryn at Chattahoochee Nature Center’s wildlife department emailed us while we were in Maine last week. Kathryn had brought ABL indoors to go into in a feeding tub, whereupon ABL plopped out an egg! An EGG! We’re going to be re-evaluating those pics to see what we missed since ABL looked initially like a male.

 In other news, ABL’s maternity seems to be functioning but her front leg does not. Between an amputated rear leg and an impaired front one, ABL really isn’t ready for the wilds. This has prompted CNC to get permission from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to allow ABL to stay indefinitely at Chattahoochee Nature Center. As an “exhibit turtle,” she will educate thousands of schoolchildren and other visitors about wildlife in the Chattahoochee watershed. So, if you’re visiting CNC soon, keep our ABL in mind!

Mid-summer tracking

Looks as if a raccoon left some pretty sharp tracks.      

Probable raccoon track
They were so distinct that I made plaster casts of them. Here’s a close up of a hind foot. 

Raccoon hind foot
Earlier this month, we found what we could only interpret to be a set of frog prints. 

Frog print
I think that the frog was going from left to right. Near the pen you’ll see the larger wedge- shaped hind prints, which seem to be a little deeper at the ankle and the toes. Superimposed over part of the hind print is the print of the fore feet, with tiny “fingers” splayed toward the center of the body.

Some July turtle stats

A June turtle but just too cute to not share!
The turtle encounters in the neighborhood this summer have paralleled the rainfall – days of nothing punctuated by a rain day and a burst of activity. That’s proven true for July. Let’s share some “box (turtle) scores”:

  • Finds in July – 7 (6 alive and one dead)
  • Finds since May 20 – 27 (some represent one or more “recaps”, or recaptures, of the same turtle. One was found four times in a week!)
  • # given ID marks in July – 3
  • # given ID marks since May 20 – 16
  • Top turtle spotters in July  – Rick Dappen (3) and Patti O’Dell (1) – GO TEAM!!
  • Highlight so far in July – a female found on July 6 while attempting to nest.

All numbers are tentative as we plug data into the spreadsheet and look for recaps in the photos. Not all turtles have been marked since some were seen by “turtle spotters” when I couldn’t stop in to measure and mark them. 

Remember – a major part of this process is a “census”, or a catalog of turtles and the points that they are seen. If you happen to spot one and wish to document it, then please make a note of the date, time, and location that you found the turtle. Many smartphones have internal GPS apps that will let you capture the location. Next, take two photos. One should be straight over the top (“carapace”) and one over the bottom (“plastron”). Text or email the pics and information to me. Finally, send the turtle on its way. The terms of my permit don’t allow me to encourage folks to hold turtles for me. Please let me know if you can keep an eye on one until I can drive over to measure and mark it. Otherwise, the pics will be catalogued in an album for comparison to other neighborhood turtles. Thanks!

Carapace
Plastron

Updated to correct the swapped captions. Thanks to Melanie Furr for pointing it out!

A little rain…

…brings a lot of turtles! Box turtles kick it up shortly after a rain. And after a couple of weeks without rain, the boxies really want to move. Whether it’s to find a mate or a nest site, they will begin crossing roads with a purpose. Tuesday afternoon was no exception. 

The radar began to look promising for rain by mid-afternoon Tuesday. Sure enough, turtle patrollers Bob and Marti texted me about  the first road crosser of the day!

Bob and Marti started the afternoon
 
I arrived home to pick up the mail, where I found ABV headed to the woods behind the mailboxes… 

ABV is a new turtle to the study
After ABV was measured and marked, we went out to release her where she was found. I put her in the leaves, turned around, and…
Damaged so much that she could not be marked
 

…we found another one making its way up a muddy bank. She had healed from such extensive shell damage that she couldn’t be marked. Back to the house to log it in! But wait!

The truck had hardly dropped into gear than THIS GUY walks out into the road! Meanwhile, patroller Greg moved this one from the road near his house.

Neighborhood patroller Greg made sure this one was out of the road

The day wasn’t done, though. Rick & Jan called to report spotting yet another female in their driveway at almost 9 p.m.! What happened? We suspect it was a combination of rain after an extended dry spell and the peak of the turtles’ annual nesting drive.

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ABM: Taking refuge at the creek

The southern Appalachians have had a drought of rain and box turtles this spring. We have found several by now each spring for the past three years. This year, only two. One is the female we’ve marked as “ABM”.

ABM
We think ABM is new to us. Hopefully a run through the Image J image matching system will flush it out. ABM is a female, probably an adult, and almost certainly a “tripod,” as she appear to be missing her rear right leg. Her age is uncertain. Even her scutes – no certain gauge – are worn smooth. On that hot Monday, she was moving along a hot and dry area. She was weighed, measured, and tagged before being released where she was found. I expected her to make hasty to a shady spot. Instead, we were surprised to find her mid-afternoon…

ABM

…only a foot away. This time she was hunkered down in a “form,” or temporary shelter. My guess was it was to get out of the direct sunlight without expending the energy to walk deeper in the woods. Two visits in one day were a nice surprise. 

Even more surprising was to find her again on Thursday, almost 100 yards away.


This time, she was soaking in the creek. It’s hard to imagine a three-legged turtle going that far that fast unless she was motivated. A three-day time frame was enough to call for at least a weigh-in. Sure enough, she had lost three grams. That’s roughly the equivalent of a 180-lb person losing just over a pound. Dehydration? Good guess. She clearly enjoyed the soak. We found ABM here again the next day. WOW! Still soaking. Let’s hope that we get some rain, for our sakes and ABM, too.

Herpy Tuesday: Southern two-lined salamander 

A walk Saturday flushed out this Southern Two-lined Salamander.  

This is the cousin to the Blue Ridge Two-lined Salamander that we discussed a few weeks ago. If you need a better frame of reference for what a challenge it is to see these on the forest floor…

Eurycea cirrigera
 …here is the same salamander in my hand. As tiny as they are, salamanders make up much of the vertebrate biomass in the southern Appalachians. 

To learn more, visit their webpage at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory

Herpy Tuesday: Blue Ridge Two-Lined Salamander

Prowling Zion Hill Road after the rain last Tuesday were twig-sized Blue Ridge Two-Lined Salamanders (Eurycea wilderae). 


Most folks wouldn’t describe amphibians as “cute”, yet these guys seem to fill the bill! These are differentiated from the Southern Two-Lined Salamander, whose range abuts the Blue Ridge in Gilmer, by looking at how the “two-lines” are broken on the tails of wilderae. 

Thanks to the folks at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory for checking the identification!