Wildlife Research, Monitoring & Mentoring

Spotted turtles are surviving at several historic sites on Martha’s Vineyard

Baby spotted turtle

An adult spotted turtle at home in a perfect little wetland in Chilmark


Over the summer, we documented 12 spotted turtles at four sites across the island. Two of these records were images people shared with us of spotted turtles they had found – one at a historic site on Chappaquiddick, and another in a historic site of Aquinnah. Some of the adults we captured had very worn shells that indicated they were older animals. How old is old for a spotted turtle?  Females regularly live more than 80 years, and males more than 50 years!

A juvenile spotted turtle

Older adult spotted turtle

Younger adult spotted turtle

Older adult spotted turtle









We attached radio transmitters to four adult spotted turtles and have been tracking their movements through the drought and into the fall by tracking to their location 1 to 3 times per week.  Radio-telemetry is much like a game of ‘hotter – colder’ where the signal gets stronger and louder the closer you get to the transmitter, but getting close to a spotted turtle can be and arduous or hazard filled task, depending on the turtle’s habits in the moment.  Our staff get extra credit for this assignment braving lone star tick bombs, briars, and chest deep wetlands to get locations on Clovis, Myrtle, Lizzy, and Clementine. We’ll be tracking them until summer 2021 to better understand their needs for nesting and overwintering sites.

Turtle telemetry

A lint roller is a great tool for removing lone star tick bombs!

tracking a signal into a thicket

A tagged turtle on his way to hide









It was great fun to have Tomas Diagne and Lucy Keith-Diagne, from the African Aquatic Conservation Fund, join us in the field for an afternoon of turtle telemetry.  Tomas has several turtle and tortoise projects active in West Africa, so he enjoyed testing our telemetry gear and diving into spotted turtle tracking. We’ll post some maps of our turtle movements in a future post, but a quick summary is that none of the turtles we are tracking have moved more than a half mile from where we captured them. Most stayed within 1/4 mile.

Many thanks to the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah for working with us to survey their lands and for sharing a report of a spotted turtle from their community. Barbara and Chris Cole, Jennifer and John Fisher, Hatsy Potter and family, Jim and Liz Pickman, Hidden Cove Association, Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, Vineyard Conservation Society, and West Chop Beach Club were also generous with permission to survey wetlands on their property. The Edey Foundation, Daniels Wildlife Trust, and a contract from MassWildlife supported this fieldwork.

If you see a spotted turtle, please take a photo and email to: info@biodiversityworksmv.org with some notes on the date, time, and location.


<a href="https://biodiversityworksmv.org/author/luanne-2/" target="_self">Luanne Johnson</a>

Luanne Johnson


Luanne Johnson is the Director of BiodiversityWorks and a wildlife biologist. She has been monitoring, studying, and protecting wildlife on Martha's Vineyard for 27 years.

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