Where are the Box Turtles?

Author: Sara Marschhauser

It’s time to update you on our box turtle project!  We have found approximately 20 unmarked box turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina) this summer (so far) and are up to a total of 120 marked turtles in the park.

We have been tracking 5 turtles using radio-telemetry for over one year now, and have recently started tracking 2 new turtles.  Our new transmitter turtles are called “LOP” and “NOP”.  Our wildlife conservation interns have been using radio-telemetry to track box turtles all summer long to get GPS locations.  They have endured the humid heat, mosquitos, hoards of ticks, and everyone’s favorite, ninja spider webs directly in the face.  We are just beginning to analyze our telemetry data, and with Google Earth’s help we have outlined home ranges for 5 of our turtles.  Four of our turtles have overlapping home ranges, which are located within the park boundary.  Our fifth turtle, “ALM”, is located on Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) land that surrounds Leigh Farm Park.  “ALM” does have a larger home range than the other four turtles, although “CHO” is in a close second.  We theorize that turtles on the WRC land have larger home ranges, due to less human activity and less habitat fragmentation.

You can also see that “NOP” was first found in the woods, but has since moved closer to a sewer line.  The other new turtle, “LOP” has been located within “ALM’s” home range, but recently crossed a two-lane road and was found in someone’s front yard.   “LOP” might be our first turtle that uses more WRC land than what the volunteers and staff at PWC have explored.  Time to power through more ninja spider webs!

Although box turtles are not on the threatened or endangered species list, biologists are concerned about a decrease in population size due to habitat loss and fragmentation.  If we keep building subdivisions and roads, where are the animals going to live?  So, it will be interesting to discover whether or not box turtles can adapt to smaller home ranges if their habitat size decreases.

If you see a box turtle on your property, make sure to get involved with our citizen science project and send us a couple pictures and your address to turtle@piedmontwildlifecenter.org.  This may help us determine whether or not Box Turtles can survive on a small plot of land (given a sufficient amount of food and mates) year after year.

Also, make sure you subscribe to our new conservation listserv to get all the up-to-date conservation news from PWC!