Turtle Tagging

Last week, a volunteer group from Burlington Christian Academy worked with our horticulture team to clean up the bioremediation cell adjacent to our parking lot. (BTW, bioremediation cell is a scientific way of describing a landscaped area containing plants that remove heavy metals from parking lot runoff so these toxic chemicals don’t enter our water supply.) During this work, they stumbled upon – almost literally – a partially-hidden box turtle!

The GSC participates in the Box Turtle Connection, a long-term study of eastern box turtles to understand more about their status, trends, and threats, as well as to develop strategies for long-term conservation of the species. Any box turtles found on or around GSC grounds are added to the database.

We collected morphometric (which is a science-y way of saying size and shape)  measurements such as weight, length, and width, and we record sex and age.

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Using a turtle ID code matrix, we made small indentations on the turtle’s marginal and peripheral carapace scutes. In other words, we filed small triangles into the outer-most part of the turtle’s shell in a particular pattern that is specific to that individual. This acts as an identifier should we find this turtle again someday.

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Finally, a small radio transmitter was affixed to this turtle’s shell so we can track its movements. The tag was adhered to the shell in a location that won’t impact the turtle’s mobility or ability to move through vegetation. Once the adhesive dried, the turtle was returned the same location it was found.

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Box turtles hibernate over winter, so we will not attempt to radio-track the turtle until the weather warms next year. Using radio telemetry, we’ll be able to track the movements of the turtle. By knowing the GPS coordinates of the turtle’s movements we can better understand the territory this turtle has and how far it travels in the warmer months. All of this information adds to our collective knowledge of the eastern box turtle!

Why is this research important?

While eastern box turtles can be found across North Carolina, populations are declining from habitat fragmentation and road-related mortality – as well as from being collected as a pet. They are a long-lived animal (more than 25 years), so they take years to reach sexual maturity. Therefore, it takes a long time for them to recover from population declines. Collecting and interpreting data about these animals now can help us protect them in the future!

What should you do if you find a box turtle?

If you find a box turtle attempting to cross a road, never take it home! Instead, merely help it cross because it will continue to try and return to its birthplace. Box turtles have a homing instinct, similar to birds, so they return to the same location year over year to build nests.

This time of year box turtles are looking for hibernation spaces. In late fall or over winter – although it is uncommon – you may see one bed down in brush or plant debris. If you find a box turtle in cold weather, be sure to leave it be. Animals that hibernate drastically reduce their metabolism to survive the winter when food sources cannot easily be found. Arousing them from hibernation is dangerous because they won’t be able to replenish the energy it takes to come out of hibernation!

Creature Feature: Yellow Spotted River Turtles

Yellow Spotted River Turtles are now on display in Amazon Edge!

Yellow Spotted River Turtle

Yellow Spotted River Turtle

Two Yellow Spotted River Turtles recently moved into the Amazon exhibit. They get their name from the yellow spots visible on a juvenile’s neck. The spots fade as the turtle ages. These turtles are considered very aquatic and typically leave the water only to bask, so they may be found either swimming in the water or sunning themselves on the logs in the exhibit.

They are omnivores and in their native habitat (the Amazon River Basin), they eat vegetation as well as insects and crustaceans. Here, they are given a variety of food, such as pieces of shrimp and fish, aquatic turtle pellets and pieces of fruits and vegetables – like pear, apple, grapes and squash.

FUN FACT: These turtles are side-necked turtles – they pull their head in to the side when threatened.

Yellow Spotted River Turtle in the Carolina SciQuarium

Yellow Spotted River Turtle in the Carolina SciQuarium

Our Yellow Spotted River Turtles are about two years old and came to us from the San Antonio Zoo. They currently have a carapace length of about 7 inches, but they can grow to be about 14 inches long. You can visit them in the SciQuarium daily from 9:00am – 5:00pm.

Yellow Spotted River Turtles are currently listed as a vulnerable species on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. One reason for this classification is that they are a popular food item in some parts of their range.

Meet Jim and I

One of the most unique animals visitors encounter at the Greensboro Science Center is a little Yellow Bellied Slider that goes by the name Jim & I. The double name gives a small clue as to why this little one is so popular among visitors… it was born with two heads.

How Does This Happen?

When Jim & I was just a little fertilized egg, traveling down mom’s birth canal, the egg began to split. Under normal circumstances, the egg splits completely and an eggshell forms around each. But in this case, nature had different plans. Before the egg could divide entirely, the eggshell formed around Jim & I, resulting in partial twins sharing one shell.

About Jim & I

Jim and I

Jim and I

Jim & I was born sometime around August of 1999 and was found in Badin Lake, NC. Upon its arrival at the Center in April of 2000, Jim & I was just about the size of a quarter. Jim & I probably has two stomachs and two hearts. Both heads are capable of thinking and eating individually.

About Yellow Bellied Sliders

Yellow Bellied Sliders are often found in ponds, slow-moving streams and swamps throughout the southeastern United States. They can be identified, as their name suggest, by their yellow belly. The bottom shell is yellow with some black markings along the edge. These turtles are active during the day, spending much of their time basking in the sun. They are omnivores, eating aquatic plants and algae, crustaceans, insects, fish and tadpoles.

You can see Jim & I in the herp lab on the lower level of the Museum. The exhibit tank is located at the end of the room and is visible from the hall window.

Citizen Science: Carolina Herp Atlas

Now that the weather has warmed, families (and many critters) are spending more time outside enjoying the warm temperatures. As you’re out and about, consider keeping an eye out for native reptiles and amphibians and tracking your sightings through the Carolina Herp Atlas. By reporting your observations, you can help scientists better understand these animals so improved conservation efforts can be implemented.

The first step is to create an account on the Carolina Herp Atlas’ website. After you register, simply start observing! When you see a reptile or amphibian, note the species and details of your sighting such as the time of day, specific location, and the animal’s behavior or condition. If possible, take a photo of the animal to verify the sighting. You can then log in to your account and upload all of the information you gathered.

Copperhead

Copperhead

Our Herpetology Department is currently participating by logging herp sightings on Greensboro Science Center grounds. Staff is on the lookout for scaly and slimy friends to assist their efforts. So far, our team has spotted the following on the property:

  • Brown Snake
  • Worm Snake
  • Rough Earth Snake
  • Red Bellied Snake
  • Copperhead Snake
  • Cope’s Gray Treefrog
  • Green Frog
  • Five lined Skink
  • Painted Turtle

Reporting our findings is an easy way we feel we can help the greater scientific community. We hope you will consider supporting this effort as well!

Conservation Notes: Box Turtles

Two members of our zoo staff, Rick Bolling and Lauren Irk, are attending the 2013 Box Turtle Conservation Workshop at the North Carolina Zoo this weekend. They are joining professionals from all over the country to learn more about potential causes for the decline in Box Turtle populations as well as strategies to help save the species.

A box turtle at the Greensboro Science Center.

A box turtle at the Greensboro Science Center.

We’re excited they have this wonderful opportunity to gain insight into the lives of these native species (including North Carolina’s State Reptile, the Eastern Box Turtle) and can’t wait for them to return and share their knowledge with fellow staff and visitors!