Native Plants, Habitat Restoration, and Other Science Snippets from Athens, Georgia

Wednesday: 21 May 2014

Box Turtles of May  -  @ 09:51:36
So far, anyway.

I've mentioned that my encounters with box turtles have seemed rather unsuccessful this year. It's true that I found none in March, and April seemed sort of disappointing too. But when I look at actual box turtle activity (number encountered relative to the time I spent looking), I find things weren't really all that bad:

2012 is shaping up in retrospect to have been an anomaly, and I attribute that to the extremely warm March that year.

In 2014, I just haven't been on as many walks as I took last year. There is one caveat: I've been more selective based on past experience. April was either cold and wet, or warm and very dry, with few days that would inspire a box turtle to emerge. I tended to focus on those days, plus the warm ones regardless. And one previously seen turtle was dead, of course. I think that if I had been more random in the sampling, then I would see April's activity go down quite a bit.

May is still in the works, of course. But I've accumulated a few points of interest. Two new turtles in places that I've sampled extensively, three old friends, and an odd appearance.

Two for ones are always gratifying. Glenn said that it was remarkable how many turtles I've come across in the act of mating. I'm now thinking that maybe because we see box turtles as slow, we imagine that they must also be lacking in enthusiasm. I think that's not the case.

On May 12 here's Sylvia and a new turtle, who is quite dirty. So dirty that I couldn't photograph him for identifying features. I used most of my water bottle to clean him off, which alarmed him enough to disengage (except for his rear legs, which males always seem to get caught by). It was quite clear that I have not seen him before, once I went through all the composites. He also has quite a bit of damage to his frontal marginals, which look like they've been substantially chewed upon by something. If I find him again, I just might name him Pigpen.

As I've mentioned before, I started using a hanging scale to weigh turtles (when possible). The male here weighed 410 grams, which is insignificantly larger than the average 402g (+/- 67g) for the 38 male weights I made last year. What was odd was that he was 14.5 cm long, which is just about the longest male I've ever found. It challenged my 6" ruler for the first time!

Sylvia, who I've now found mating three times since last year, was 430g, just under her 446g (+/- 11g) average last year (n=5). At 445 +/- 58 grams (n=30), females tend to be about 10% heavier than males. This, by the way, is my 18th encounter with her since I first found her in 2006. It was great to see her again.

So why was that male so dirty? I've never found a turtle so covered in dried mud. Even early in the season they tend to be quite clean, and I've assumed they quickly get to water after digging out, or that the next rain will wash them off. Since we had had a fairly significant rain two days before, I'd guess this turtle just emerged in the last day.

It's probably also worth noting that this supports the idea that he actually did dig down for the winter, and wasn't just under a thick pile of leaves and detritus.

On May 13, I found this new turtle. He was on the upper ancient roadcut leading down to Goulding Creek. He weighed 360g, so on the small side for a male. His 19 scute rings represent only a minimal age - once you get to that number, the rings aren't very informative anymore.

I found the handsome fellow below just climbing out of the creek at the southernmost tip of my route up SBS Creek. As it turns out, I also saw him last year on June 7, for the first time, probably 50 feet away from where he is now. He needs a name now. He weighed 510g, which is quite heavy for a male (last year it was 490g).

Finally, our old friends Cory (left) and Reuben (right).

I've found Cory now 14 times since my first discovery in 2009. He's a small turtle, averaging 320 +/- 7 grams, and weighed just 300g on May 12. He's always been in the same general location, on the north slope. He's made at least one foray into the fairy ring south of the house, where I found him once last year.

Reuben, who was the first turtle I found in 2012, has been rediscovered 11 more times since then. He tends to haunt the lower half of SBS Creek, and I've found him mating twice (once with Sylvia!). He's at the upper end of the male range, at 450 +/- 11 grams, and on the 12th he weighed 460g, so has probably been out and about for some time now.

We had some unusually cold weather the last five days, with considerable rain, and I haven't seen any turtles during or since then. But we're climbing out of that cold spell now, and I expect today could net some more May discoveries.

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