An indicator species for water quality around the Bluff, when turtles are doing well that means every species is doing well. In order to make sure these important reptiles are thriving, the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy team sets up traps to capture, or recapture, and research turtles around the property. As part of the Turtle Mark & Recapture program, the conservancy invites members to join the team to take part in their research and get the chance to experience a recapture, something that is very rare.
Loaded up in the back of the conservancy’s pick-up trucks on a Thursday morning, land and wildlife manager Justin Hardy leads the way to Headwaters for the second-turtle marking session of the year to check their first trap. Although the first trap came up empty, Justin takes the opportunity to describe the ingenuity behind trapping turtles. With turtles being easy to catch, the team uses basking traps to take advantage of the sun-loving reptiles. Turtles climb on the side ramps of the trap to bask in the sun and when they are finished tanning, they move forward instead of back, crawling right into the submerged box. With a little help from some sardines inside the trap to give the turtles more motivation, the basking trap provides all levels of the species, no matter its age, gender or heath, equal levels to be captured.
At the next location down the road, we found success. A shy Yellow-bellied slider was captured for the first time, giving the team and us an opportunity to name and mark it. After coaxing it slightly out of its shell, we were able to tell its gender by its nail and tail size. Since the tail and nails were long, we could tell it was a male, since females have short nails and tails. We measured the length and width of the top and bottom of the shell and weighed it. After getting the information we needed, we could move on to marking the turtle. Choosing three unique letters from the alphabet, the team used these letters to count off the side plates of the shell, called the “scutes,” to match the letters we chose. After finding these specific places, we were able to help mark the scutes with a file, a feeling that is comparable to clipping your fingernails. With three scutes marked, the turtle officially had its name. After everyone was given a chance to hold and observe our first catch, it was released back to its original spot of capture, racing back to the water and triumphantly diving in.
After striking gold with one turtle, success followed at the rest of the three locations. In the turtle-hotspot waterway behind the Canoe Club, the traps revealed not only a new capture, but also a good-sized female recapture. After determining that she was not carrying any eggs, we used her old markings to find her name and look her up old marking sheet. Not only did we find that she was growing and thriving since the last time they caught her, but also that she was the programs first ever catch! The next two locations revealed a new type of turtle, called the Chicken-turtle. A very rare catch, the activity of these uncommon freshwater reptiles revealed to the team that the inland waterway and its inhabitants were healthy and happy.
The Turtle Mark & Recapture gives members a behind-the-scenes look at the work of the Conservancy and inner-workings of the Palmetto Bluff environment. Whether your ready to get your hands dirty and throw yourself into marking the turtle yourself or just along for the ride around the beauty and nature of the Bluff, this event provides an appreciation for a species with a huge impact on our eco-system.