What’s new for 2017 for the box turtle project?

By the time you read this we should have our state and federal permits in hand. These spell out the scope of the project for the coming “turtle season”. Of course we’ll continue to search for turtles in order to learn more about where and how they live. The changes will come with some new tools and hopefully some new partners.

The big news for 2017 is “Ranger,” our new Boykin Spaniel!

“Ranger,” a Boykin Spaniel, has already begun his turtle-finding training.

Ranger’s new job is to improve the quality of our data by finding box turtles that we miss in the woods. Box turtles are so easily overlooked! Their shells are well-camouflaged. Boykin Spaniels have already been used very successfully in searching for box turtles for other researchers. We hope that we get the same results here.

We want to start getting more data about disease in our turtles this year, too. So far, our disease detection has been limited to looking for signs of infection. This year we have also asked for permission to start taking swabbings of turtles. These swabs can then be shipped to cooperating researchers who can test them for the DNA of disease organisms such as ranavirus, herpesvirus, and mycoplasma. The researchers can use that data to answer bigger questions about how certain diseases can spread in a turtle population. To make that happen, we’re going to seek out researchers that have students who are interested in samples for study and analysis. 

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2016 in review – What does it all mean?

What does it all mean? For now, we’re refraining from any “big picture” interpretation of the numbers. We don’t think we have enough numbers from which to draw solid conclusions. Our boxies generally seem to follow the pattern that their activity increases immediately after rain, and especially after a rain day that was preceded by several dry days. When the drought kicked in, then the turtles got off the roads. The ones that were found then usually turned up much closer to a stream bed than in wetter periods. If those observations are sound, then it may be a reflection of the box turtle’s evolution from a purely aquatic turtle, like its relatives, to a more land-adapted lifestyle. They still need lots of water, and they gear their activity and choice of surroundings to finding it.

 

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Just a ridiculously cute turtle…

2016 in review – The “turtle patrol” 

The neighborhood really stepped up this year in documenting turtles that they saw and moved from roadways. The “turtle patrol” reported a dozen in 2016. Seven of those were thanks to Rick and Jan Dappen. Patti O’Dell and her grandchildren and Greg Withrow and his family saw two turtles per household. Marti and Bob Burgess reported the turtle that has apparently resided in their yard since they moved here (it must know “turtle people” when it sees them!). Many thanks to all of you! 

2016 in review – Seasonal trends

As with prior years, June and July were the prime months in which turtles were detected. Thirty three of them were in that window, with the first couple of weeks in June seeing the most movement. August and September fell flat, with one one turtle being found. We had none after September. That’s a little out of character with prior years. It was much more typical than in 2015, when a warm and wet winter prompted a box turtle to cross the road in front of the Withrow family at Christmas. 

Why does the turtle cross the road? Beats us. We asked this one. Not chatty.

2016 in review – Overall finds

We had 36 turtles that were either found or reported to us in 2016. Three turtles were found more than once. One was found three times (guess it really liked us!). Twenty-six turtles were measured and then marked with a unique code. Some were not marked because they were either found dead or were reported to us by the “turtle patrol” that photographs and reports the ones that they move out of the roads. 

One of our 2016 finds as he headed presumably to a stream bed

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)

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.

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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