RARE, OR JUST SECRETIVE? A NEW STUDY AIMS TO FIND OUT
Spotted turtles are a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in all 21 states in which they occur. The Status Assessment and Conservation Plan for the Spotted Turtle in the Eastern United States, a collaborative effort among biologists from Maine to Florida, is focusing on a standardized population assessment to establish baseline population data, inform adaptive management strategies, and identify priority habitat and population management actions to ensure their survival. Project protocols include visual surveys, capture and release for population estimation, and genetic sampling. BiodiversityWorks is joining this effort to include abundance, distribution, and genetics data from Martha’s Vineyard (MV) spotted turtles in collaboration with state herpetologist, Mike Jones. We will also attach radio-transmitters to a few spotted turtles in different parts of the island to learn about potential hazards near their breeding ponds and upland nesting areas. This Martha’s Vineyard project is funded through grants from The Edey Foundation and George G. and Doris B. Daniels Wildlife Trust as well as a contract with MassWildlife and a donation in memory of Edith Potter.
What do we know about Spotted Turtles on Martha’s Vineyard?
In 1976, James Lazell, Jr. published “This Broken Archipelago,” a book sharing his observations and those of local naturalists about the abundance and distribution of amphibians and reptiles of Cape Cod and the Islands. Lazell’s map for spotted turtles showed several populations on the island (see map to the right). Over the last 40 years, only the population at and near Mass Audubon’s Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary has been observed regularly. A couple of records have been noted in Aquinnah, and one on Chappaquiddick, but very little is known about the abundance of Spotted Turtles on the island. Our work this year aims to fill this information gap.
How you can help
If you have seen a spotted turtle, the most likely encounter might have been in May or June, when the females are moving in search of sandy areas to dig a nest and lay eggs. With their distinctive yellow spots, these small turtles should be easily recognized. The only other native turtle you might confuse with a spotted turtle is a painted turtle, so here is a quick primer on the two species:
Painted turtles have a smooth olive shell and yellow stripes on its head (see image left). They are also often found in open, deep water ponds. Spotted turtles prefer shallow wetlands and have a smooth dark shell with little yellow polka dots. Look for the yellow dots!
If you have seen a spotted turtle on Martha’s Vineyard or Chappaquiddick, please report it to firstname.lastname@example.org – please include a photo, if possible.
You can read more about the biology and conservation of spotted turtles in Massachusetts HERE.