There is a small wetland on campus. It's shallow and warm. It's also incredibly productive (teeming with aquatic invertebrates, vegetation, and ampibians)....a great place for turtles. In fact, turtles in this wetland undergo a fairly treacherous journey every spring and fall. They leave the shallow wetland and migrate across a road to a nearby stream, where they spend the winter (a journey I've commented on before). Once they are in the wetland, it's easy street.....assuming some annoying university professor and his students don't screw up your whole morning by setting turtle traps!
Armed with their knowledge, the students plunged in to set their own traps for an overnight soak....
A commonly incorporated technique for sampling snakes involves the use of Artificial Cover Objects (ACOs). These are essentially a board laid flat on the ground (often CXD plywood in 3 ft x 4 ft sections is ideal. Once put into place, these boards are warmed by the sun, and also hold moisture, so that the conditions underneath become nice and warm and humid.....perfect for a thermoregulating ectotherm! In early May, the students in the summer session course measured out and deployed a 5 x 5 grid of these boards in a little prairie preserve on campus. We let the boards age for a few weeks, which gives the snakes some time to find the boards. So....in the late afternoon on the same day as setting the turtle traps.....we got out there as a group to check what was underneath.
We were not disappointed! In total we caught 17 snakes in about a half an hour of checking ACOs.
We then let the snakes go along their merry way!
The next morning, it was time to check our turtle traps....and again....we were not disappointed!
Painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) were the order of the day! We caught 12 total in our traps...
We then discussed methods for measuring and marking turtles.
We measured and marked all of our turtles, including a rather small Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) with attitude to burn.
These marked turtles will now be part of an ongoing long-term population monitoring project carried out by students in this little wetland.