Sunday, August 20, 2017

Spotted Turtle Research

Previously, we have posted on spotted turtles and Jacqueline Litzgus' research.

Dr. Jacqueline Litzgus, Ph.D. returned to the Lowcountry this week for the Turtle Survival Alliance's 2017 Symposium on the Conservation and Biology of Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles. She brought along some current and former Laurentian University students when she visited the old-growth swamp at the Francis Beidler Forest. Not only did Jackie want to revisit the site of her spotted turtle research (and marriage ceremony), she was hoping to locate one of her former subjects...and she did!

In her words:
That female spotted turtle we found is quite a special one!  I have my
PhD data on my laptop, so I looked her up when I got to my hotel room.
She is notch code 1R2L = 6F, and she is the same size and mass as she
was 17 years ago.  She was part of the mark-recapture study for 5 years,
2000-2004, I radio-tracked her for 3 years, 2000-2002, and she is the
first turtle I found nesting during my PhD research - see attached pics
- she is the one that taught me to look on the tops of rotten logs for
nesting turtles.  In 2001, she produced 3 clutches of eggs, which had
never before been reported for wild spotted turtles, so that prompted me
to publish the attached paper about multiple clutching in the species.
Unfortunately, all 3 clutches were eaten by predators that year.  But in
2002, I had the privilege to meet her 3 babies that hatched from her 1st
nest that year (she produced 2 nests, 2 weeks apart). 

(More from Jackie's perspective at Audubon South Carolina website)

6F's measurements - Image by Mark Musselman
6F's nest in 2001 - Image by Jacqueline Litzgus
6F's nest in 2001 - Image by Jacqueline Litzgus
Jackie Litzgus holding 6F on 8/5/2017 - Image by Mark Musselman
6F on 8/5/2017 - Image by Mark Musselman

Monday, August 07, 2017


Bobcat kittens - Image by Mark Musselman
While on patrol for destructive wild pigs on the east side of the swamp nearly opposite the Francis Beidler Forest nature center, I walked up on a female bobcat and her three kittens tucked inside a standing hollow tree.

Wild pigs numbers were greatly diminished after the extreme high water resulting from the 1000-year rain event in October 2015 and Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. However, since the water level in the swamp has dropped, wild pigs have been rooting up every foot of exposed moist soil and reproducing and reproducing. Therefore, I was patrolling to survey the damage and was prepared to shoot any pigs that showed themselves in the open. Unfortunately, the damage was extensive and no pigs were spotted.

I was making a less-than-stealthy march through the dwarf palmettos on the way back to the truck, when a reddish-haired mammal began slinking away in front of me. It was obviously a mammal, but looked initially like a woodchuck low to the ground and somewhat flattened around the edges. It was not a woodchuck, as they are not in this area and the body proportions were wrong. The animal in question was longer. I thought maybe a red fox due to the hair color, but there was no tail. Even when the animal stopped, turned broadside to me and stared, I remained unconvinced it was a bobcat. Cat, definitely, but the hair was so reddish. It was too big to be a domestic cat, but a bobcat would not stand 20 meters from me and stare...unless there was something she really wanted to protect. Just as I began to scan the area for a possible den site, the sounds of young kittens began emanating from the base of the tree to my right. Bending forward and peering around the side of the tree, I could see it was hollow and occupied by three kittens.

Before mom decided to return and possibly fight for her offspring, I captured the short video linked below. I made an even noisier retreat to ensure the female bobcat knew that I was gone and it was safe to return to her kittens.