Spotted turtle population surveys

Among the many turtle projects in which we participate, one of my favorite is the Massachusetts spotted turtle survey. The spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata) is a beautiful, small, freshwater turtle species from the eastern United States. It prefers wet meadows, swamps, and other shallow wetlands. It is active from April through October, and hibernates underwater in the winter. The most active time of year is April through June, which is their breeding and nesting season.

Spotted turtles are relatively rare in Massachusetts, and for many years they were listed as a Species of Special Concern, and were legally protected. Several years ago, though, they were removed from the list of protected species, as some scientists felt that they may be more common than previously thought. As with all conservation issues, there are people on both sides of this argument, and many turtle biologists are still quite concerned that spotted turtles are becoming more rare.
To try to address this debate, the state of Massachusetts has started a spotted turtle survery program, where volunteers are assigned to visit known spotted turtle sites each year, and count the number of turtles that are found. Each turtle is numbered by a series of small notches on their shell so that they can be identified in the future.

The attached images were taken by NEAQ biologist Adam Kennedy and me at one of our assigned study sites. It shows a beautiful adult male spotted turtle on a beautiful New England spring day. On this day, we found three turtles, including one female that I had marked last year.

If you see a spotted turtle in the wild, please report it to the Masssachusetts Natural Heritage program so that it's location can be recorded. If it is on a road, please try to safely help it across (think about your own safety before you do this!). Sadly, we have already seen three spotted turtles killed by cars this year at one of our study sites. Although these turtles have been removed from the protected list, it is still illegal to keep them as pets in Massachusetts, so please leave them where they belong.

Thanks for helping turtles!

-Dr. Innis


1 comment:

  1. I can't get the "report a spotted turtle" link to work, but I saw 3 Spotteds at Ponkapoag this weekend in the pond.