Friday, March 09, 2007

Spotted Turtles

Looking over the images of a Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) captured on Monday, March 5th, a distinctive arrangement of spots was noticed. As you can see in the image, below the white star is a pattern of spots that form a "L" on the left side of the carapace. The image on the left is from 2006 and the one on the right is from 2007. This male certainly knows his left from his right. Below is the data from the last year's capture and last Monday's capture.

4/20/06 2:40pm 171g carapace 10.65cm plastron 8.60cm
3/5/07 2:45pm 175g carapace 10.91cm plastron 8.90cm

This male has bulked up some in the last year and just in time for mating season.

When you visit the Francis Beidler Forest, you can learn more about the Spotted Turtle by interacting with the touch-screen display in the nature center. The display and previous Spotted Turtle research at the Francis Beidler Forest were sponsored by Santee Cooper, which owns the powerline that cuts across Four Holes Swamp and provides critical basking sites for the turtles.

Jackie Litzgus studied Spotted Turtles for four years here at Beidler Forest. She grew up in southern Ontario, Canada and has been studying Spotted Turtles since a chance encounter in 1991 while working as a biology instructor at a canoe trip camp. In the Bug House, the name given to the shed that housed the camp’s equipment, Jackie discovered a moldy binder of forgotten research data for Spotted Turtles dating back to 1977. Jackie was fascinated and immediately set out to see if she could find any of the individual turtles in the nearby pond. She did and she was hooked!

As an undergraduate from University of Guelph, Jackie began studying the Spotted Turtles in the Ontario area (45N 06’, 80W 04’), which led to her Master’s degree on the subject from the same university. In Canada, the Spotted Turtle is listed as an endangered species. Jackie’s 29 years of data constitute the longest running data set for the species on the planet.

Having studied the Spotted Turtles at the northern extent of their range, Jackie began looking for suitable sites to study at the southern extent of their range. Florida was eliminated as a possibility, since there no longer exists a large or healthy population of Spotted Turtles. Jackie’s four-year study at the Francis Beidler Forest site, which led to her Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina, began at the suggestion of herpetologists in our state. Jackie is now back in Ontario as a professor studying turtles.

"It was an amazing experience. Beidler Forest is a herpetologists dream…all the reptiles. It’s spiritual among the trees."
--Jackie Litzgus

We couldn't agree more!

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