Herp Workshop: Aquatic Turtles

I’m finally settling back in to a routine at home, after a week or so of resting, errands and fun-filled weekends. I learned so much in my two weeks at the New Jersey School of Conservation, and reveled in the opportunity to do some real science stuff. While there is much I can’t share here, since we visited some sensitive habitats and vulnerable populations, I will post what I can in the coming days.

Several times over the course of our ten days, we checked two types of traps that had been set in the lake for aquatic turtles. There were a number of basking traps set up for eastern painted turtles, as part of a larger study to see if they preferred the basking sites with or without turtle decoys in place. There were also hoop traps set, which rely on bait and a funnel to entice and trap all kinds of aquatic turtles. Each capture is processed: weighed, measured, sexed, and if possible, identified. Some turtles have notch codes, where the turtle can be ID’ed by which scute on which side of the shell has a notch in it. Some have also more recently been pit-tagged, which means they have been injected with a digital tag with a unique code, kind of like how you can microchip a pet. We caught a few that didn’t have tags, giving us the opportunity to practice the injection process.

Processing a painted turtle or musk turtle is pretty simple. We brought them back to the lab and recorded all the data.

Snapping turtles, on the other hand, were a bit more challenging, especially when there were a few beasts brought in at a time. We had one very large one we put in the shed until we were ready to process her, and she kept banging around in there, making us all jump!

Weighing a large snapping turtle

After we’d collected all of the data, the turtles were released back into the lake. It seems like a healthy population, though the lake is not large, and unfortunately we found some predated nests around. We have lots of eastern painted turtles and common snapping turtles here in Westchester, too, but I have yet to find an eastern musk turtle here. They are particularly small and were a total fan favorite!

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