State biologists tracking endangered turtles in southern Maine

State biologists have captured more than 40 Blanding’s turtles this summer in an effort to better understand the dynamic between the endangered species and growing suburban areas in southern Maine, according to a recent press release by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Photo courtesy of the DIF&W
Blanding’s turtle.

The trapping effort is part of a two-year study in Maine and four other northeastern states to develop a management plan that will afford protections for the endangered turtle, while also accommodating the development needs of an expanding population in urban areas. The study is supported by a Competitive State Wildlife Grant.

This work, including a genetic assessment facilitated through Dr. Judith Rhymer at the University of Maine, began in the spring of 2012 and is scheduled to be completed at the end of the year. To date, Maine biologists have systematically surveyed 18 Blanding’s turtle sites spanning 12 towns and obtained almost 60 genetic samples for population analysis.

Biologists believe that Blanding’s turtles are being negatively affected as their habitat becomes more fragmented due to urban development.

Courtesy of Center for Biological Diversity
Blanding’s turtle

Blanding’s turtles are easy to identify, with their yellow throat and helmet-shared shell. They are semi-aquatic, preferring small, shallow wetlands in southern Maine, including pocket swamps and vernal pools. Undeveloped fields and upland forests surrounding these wetlands provide habitat for nesting, aestivating (a period of summer inactivity) and movements between wetlands.

Blanding’s turtles can live upwards of 70 years, but they don’t begin reproducing until 14-18 years of age. They also have a low hatching success, which makes survival of adults especially important.

When biologists capture Blanding’s turtles at a site, they file a series of notches on the outer edge of the turtles’ shells so that the turtle can be identified at a later date. The technique is used to determine a Blanding’s turtle’s movements, how it uses its habitat and where it nests.

In order to catch turtles, biologists deploy a baited, hoop-style netted trap that allows turtles to enter but, due to its funnel-shape ends, is difficult to escape. Biologists set these traps in marshy areas, along pond banks and other likely areas and check the traps every two days.

Captured turtles are weighed, measured and photographed. Their age is determined if possible; general health is noted (missing or injured limbs); and females are checked for eggs. The data collected is submitted into a regional database that will be processed during the winter months.

This year, biologists have visited 11 different sites this year to help determine the range of Blanding’s turtles in the state; and they found turtles at seven of the sites.

Photo courtesy of the DIF&W
A new turtle crossing sign erected by state biologists warns motorists of endangered turtles in the roadway during spring 2013 in southern York County.

In addition to sampling and tracking of Blanding’s turtles, DIF&W is taking other measures to help the endangered Blanding’s turtle. Road mortality becomes an ever-increasing threat for turtles. DIF&W, along with the assistance of MaineDOT, The Nature Conservancy and local towns, has installed temporary yellow warning signs in strategic locations to alert motorists to the presence of turtles on the roadway. DIF&W, MaineDOT and Maine Audubon are also conducting a wildlife road watch, which reports sightings of both alive and dead turtles. Data collected will help target future projects, such as signage and fencing.

For information, visit www.mefishwildlife.com

 

 

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Professionally, Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the "Outdoor" and "Living" pages. She's a wilderness romper and fashion-forward bookworm.