Archive for category Western Pond Turtle
I can’t count the number of times I’ve turned the car around – or cajoled my wife or any other unfortunate driver I happen to be with at the time to do the same – after having caught a ‘glimpse’ at sixty-five miles an hour of what could only have been a western pond turtle on the side of the road. To my chagrin, my so-called turtles have always ended up being a boot or rock or junkyard scrap. I’m still unclear if if that makes me an alarmist or a wishful thinker, seeing turtles in peril where there is neither.
Once, driving home several years ago, I happened to come up behind a car that had stopped in my rural neighborhood to pick up a wayward western pond turtle. Too late, I realized what it was the front passenger had retrieved from the road. I was tailing them, working up a pitch to negotiate the turtle’s safe return, when the car lurched to a stop, all four doors flew open, and the passengers leapt from the car. Hysterical, one of them was all too eager to tell me that, moments after retrieving their prize, the put-upon turtle had proceeded to pee all over the car while scrabbling and scratching to be released. Surprised, the young women had dropped the turtle at her feet, where the hardened prisoner made a break under the front seats for the driver’s-side, sending the passengers into a panic. They were all too glad to return their hostage, a hardy three-legged western pond turtle I dubbed “tripod” before I released it at a BLM property in a pond a short distance away.
But this Friday, traveling along Highway 84 in San Mateo County, for the first time in years I had the misfortune of being right. The turtle in this case – a mature female – lay along the roadside shoulder in an advanced state of decay. Her plastron, crushed no doubt beneath the tires of a passing car, had been flipped upward as though on a piano hinge. I can only imagine that she had first been flipped onto her back by the front tire before the rear tire pinned the anterior of her plastron and carapace against the hardtop, caving the shell like a walnut in a nutcracker.
Too often, roadways parallel waterways, acting as a barrier obstructing daily and seasonal movement and dispersal between overwintering sites, nesting grounds, and the turtle’s natal waters. There’s no telling where this unfortunate turtle was heading. To or from the nearby creek? In search of a mate or a spot to nest? I checked the shell cavity for eggs. She was running on empty.
Fortunately, not every scenario is so grim. Two weeks ago, two colleagues turned up at work on a Monday morning with photos of a mature female western pond turtle they had come across while cycling along a roadway in Marin County. Because the turtle had been found straddling the centerline, there was no telling in which direction she had been headed, so the Samaritans had relocated the turtle across the road to safety toward the nearby creek.
In this case, they did the right thing, moving the turtle out harm’s way. But scenarios like these raise a good question: what should you do if you find a western pond turtle in the road?
To help answer that question, several years ago I developed a full-color, tri-fold brochure describing our local western pond turtle, what to do if you find one, and guidance to private landowners and public land managers alike on the best ways to protect and conserve western pond turtles through proactive land stewardship. I’ve excerpted the relevant text below:
Western pond turtles leave the safety of the water more often than you might think. Turtles come to land to nest; escape drying creeks and ponds or winter floods; hibernate; find mates; and to seek out new ponds and streams.
If you come across a healthy western pond turtle on dry land that is in no immediate danger, do not disturb it. Already skittish by nature, they are especially so on land, leading females to abandon nesting attempts. Make a point of leaving (and leave!) by walking away with heavy footsteps and loud voices. If you sneak off, the turtle may wait you out – leaving it vulnerable to predators or the elements. If you find a live turtle crossing a road, safely move it to the far side in the direction it was heading.
If you come across a western pond turtle that appears ill or has sustained recent injuries (e.g., from a pet, vehicle, or fishing tackle), carefully transport it in a covered container to a local wildlife rehabilitation center immediately. Note where you first discovered the turtle so it can be returned to the closest watershed.
And it’s free! So download the .pdf, print, and distribute.
Back by popular demand for the sixth year running, the Elkhorn Slough Coastal Training Program is sponsoring the Western Pond Turtle Workshop 2013 with presenters Drs. David Germano (Professor, California State University Bakersfield) and Galen Rathbun (Research Associate, California Academy of Sciences). The workshop, slated for Thursday, June 27, 2013 at the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve in Watsonville, CA, will provide a comprehensive review of the species’ natural history and conservation efforts with both classroom lecture and a hands-on lab. Among the topics covered are species identification, sampling techniques, geographic distribution, upland/aquatic habitat requirements and management, movement/dispersal, ecology, survey methodology, and how to avoid and minimize impacts to the species.
I whole-heartedly recommend this workshop, having taken it several years ago. Space is limited, so act now! This year’s registration deadline is June 3rd.
One of the pluses the Elkhorn Slough Coastal Training Program provides is free online access to workshop materials and related peer-reviewed papers. Make sure to check it out here!
For those of you western pond turtle aficionados, I hope by now you have stumbled across the western pond turtle literature page, where the bulk of the western pond turtle literature published between 1852 and the present has been meticulously indexed and posted for public consumption. I say ‘bulk’ because even I overlook a paper now and then, or fall behind in my indexing. But thanks to the gentle prodding of GL and LP – two fellow western pond turtle wonks – I’ve picked up where I last left off and offer the following new (and old) publications in case you too have overlooked them.
Abel, Jae. 2010. Western Pond Turtle Summer Habitat Use in a Coastal Watershed. Unpublished M.S. Thesis: San Jose State University. 111 pp.
Angielczyk, Kenneth D., Chris D Feldman, and Gretchen R. Miller. 2010. Adaptive Evolution of Plastron Shape in Emydine Turtles. Evolution. 65(2): pp 377-394.
Ashton, Don T., Jamie B. Bettaso, and Hartwell H. Welsh Jr. 2011. Comparative Ecology of Western Pond Turtle (Actinemys marmorata) Populations on the Free-Flowing South Fork and Regulated Main Fork Trinity River: Demography, Size and Body Condition Comparisons, Thermal Ecology, and Spatial Dynamics. Final Report to the Trinity River Restoration Program. June 10. 55 pp.
Bettelheim, Matthew P., R. Bruce Bury, Laura C. Patterson, and Glen M. Lubcke. 2006. Trachemys scripta elegans (Red-eared Slider). Reproduction. Herpetological Review 37(4): pp 459-460.
Bettelheim, Matthew P. 2009. Actinemys (=Clemmys) marmorata (Western Pond Turtle). Courtship Behavior. Herpetological Review 40(2): pp 212-213.
Bettelheim, Matthew. 2010. Native Son: Making Room for the Western Pond Turtle. Bay Nature. 10(2): April-June pp 40-44.
Bettelheim, Matthew P. 2011. Art in Herpetology. Herpetological Review 42(3): p 382.
Bettelheim, Matthew. 2011. Western Pond Turtles: Basking in Their Own Resiliency. Outdoor California. 72(2): March-April pp 22-31.
Bury, R. Bruce, David J. Germano, and Gwendolynn W. Bury. 2010. Population Structure and Growth of the Turtle Actinemys marmorata from the Klamath-Siskiyou Ecoregion: Age, Not Size, Matters. Copeia. 3: pp 443-451.
Bury, R. Bruce, Hartwell H. Welsh, David J. Germano, and Donald T. Ashton. 2012. Western Pond Turtle: Biology, Sampling Techniques, Inventory and Monitoring, Conservation and Management. Northwest Fauna 7: 128 pp.
Fritz, Uwe and Peter Havas. 2007. Checklist of Chelonians of the World. Vertebrate Zoology. 57(2): pp 149-368.
Fritz, Uwe, Christian Schmidt, and Carl H. Ernst. 2011. Competing Generic Concepts for Blanding’s, Pacific and European Pond Turtles (Emydoidea, Actinemys and Emys)–Which is Best? Zootaxa. 2791: pp 41-53.
Germano, David J. and R. Bruce Bury. 2009. Variation in Body Size, Growth, and Population Structure of Actinemys marmorata from Lentic and Lotic Habitats in Southern Oregon. Journal of Herpetology. 43(3): pp 510-520.
Germano, David J. 2010. Ecology of Western Pond Turtles (Actinemys marmorata) at Sewage-Treatment Facilities in the San Joaquin Valley, California. The Southwestern Naturalist. 55(1): pp 89-97.
Gordon, Rebecca A. 2009. Effects of Incubation Temperature on the Embryonic Development and Hatching Success of the Western Pond Turtle (Emys marmorata). Unpublished M.S. Thesis: Sonoma State University. 38 pp.
Lambert, M.R., S.N. Nielsen, A.N. Wright, R.C. Thomson, and H.B. Shaffer. In press. Microhabitat Characteristics Favor Introduced Red-Eared Sliders Over Threatened Western Pond Turtles in a Human-Dominated Landscape. Chelonian Conservation and Biology.
Lightfoot, Kent G. and Otis Parrish. 2009. California Indians and their Environment, An Introduction. California Natural History Guide Series No. 96. University of California Press: Berkeley, California. 512 pp.
Polo-Cavia, N., T. Engstrom, P. Lopez, and J. Martin. 2010. Body Condition Does Not Predict Immunocompetence of Western Pond Turtles in Altered Versus Natural Habitats. Animal Conservation. 13(3): pp 256-264.
Reynolds, Robert P., Steve W. Gotte, and Carl H. Ernst. 2007. Catalog of Type Specimens of Recent Crocodilia and Testudines in the National Mueum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology Number 626. 49 pp.
Rosenberg, Daniel K. and Roberta Swift. 2010. Post-Emergence Behavior of Hatchling Western Pond Turtles. Final Report. Oregon Wildlife Institute, Corvallis, Oregon. 33 pp.
Shufeldt, R.W. 1919. Observations on the Chelonians of North America (Part IV). Aquatic Life. 4(12): pp 155-157.
Spinks, P. Q., R. C. Thomson, and H. B. Shaffer. 2010. Nuclear Gene Phylogeography Reveals the Historical Legacy of an Ancient Inland Sea on Lineages of the Western Pond Turtle, Emys marmorata in California. Molecular Ecology 19: pp 542-556.
Sproat, Gilbert Malcolm. 1868. Scenes and Studies of Savage Life. Smith, Elder and Co.: London. 317 pp.
Stebbins, Robert C. and Samuel M. McGinnis. 2012. Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California (Revised Edition). University of California Press: Berkeley, California. 552 pp.
Studebaker, Rebecca S. 2008. Actinemys marmorata (Western Pond Turtle). Predation Attempt. Herpetological Review. 39(4): pp 463-464.
Thompson, Robert C., Phillip Q. Spinks, and H. Bradley Shaffer. 2010. Distribution and Abundance of Invasive Red-Eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) in California’s Sacramento River Basin and Possible Impacts on Native Western Pond Turtles (Emys marmorata). Chelonian Conservation and Biology. 9(2): 297-302.
White, W.L. 1910. Turtles and Turtling in Many Waters. Hunter Trader Trapper. 20(2): pp 17-20.
Wilcox, Jeffery T. 2010. Actinemys (=Emys) marmorata (Western Pond Turtle). Predation. Herpetological Review. 41(2): pp 212.
On a midday hike this weekend, I caught this year’s first glimpse of western pond turtles (Clemmys marmorata) taking advantage of March’s false spring sizzle. It was the vainglorious male basking on an outthrust stump that first caught my attention; I knew him well from past visits to this pond. A slow circuit of the water’s edge revealed a second sub-adult in the tules who, like a child’s stockinged feet peeking from beneath the curtains during a game of hide-and-seek, betrayed its submarine wanderings beneath the toffee waters by the yaw, pitch, and roll of emergent stems in its wake.
But it was my wife – credit where credit is due – who first noticed the hatchlings flush from a waterlogged branch. I gave the little ones five minutes to muster the courage to reclaim their posts before I retraced my steps. Past a crocodilic California red-legged frog recumbent in the shallows, past the spastic turtle – aware and watching me now with the mercurial courage renowned in western pond turtles (Splash!). And then, on a thumb-width limb, I spied two hatchlings bookending the branch. Emboldened by the radiant noontime warmth, the pair resisted the urge to flush again into the tepid pond. The same held for the unexpected second pair of hatchlings I observed queued head-to-tail not two feet away.
The four hatchlings – most likely two or so years of age – are a good sign of successful recruitment in this population. There are sexually mature adults to breed, their nests are escaping detection by predators, and at least one cohort of hatchlings has survived the first of its most vulnerable years. But as these little ones grow in size and their shells harden, they will be better equipped to handle the abuse of a curious dog or a hungry fox. Until such time, that propensity to flush will pay off in spades.
The Society for Northwestern Vertebrate Biology (SNVB) announced this month the publication of the long-awaited ”western pond turtle handbook,” Northwest Fauna 7 - Western Pond Turtle: Biology, Sampling Techniques, Inventory and Monitoring, Conservation and Management. The western pond turtle handbook’s release marks the culmination of years of hard work by editors R. Bruce Bury, Hartwell H. Welsh, David J. Germano, and Donald T. Ashton to record the biology, survey and sampling protocol, field procedures, and conservation/restoration strategies geared toward protecting the western pond turtle.
The 128-page handbook is only available through SNVB as a standalone Northwest Fauna biological monograph for $12.00 here. The table of contents is excerpted below; a full review will be posted in the coming weeks.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Objectives, Nomenclature and Taxonomy, Description, Status, and Needs for Sampling
Chapter 2. Synopsis of Biology
Chapter 3. Sampling Design Considerations
Chapter 4. Visual Encounter Surveys
Chapter 5. Sampling of Turtles: Trapping and Snorkeling
Chapter 6. Specialized Surveys: Nests, Hatchlings, and Young
Chapter 7. Field Procedures
Chapter 8. Conservation and Restoration Strategies
Chapter 9. Future Research and Management Actions