Box Turtle Tracking
The N.C. Zoo has more active baby box turtles than most known localities. Using GPS/GIS technology, we are mapping the locations where box turtles have been found at the Zoo.
Over the long term, this study will allow us to identify preferred habitat, follow yearly and seasonal changes in habitat use, and estimate home ranges.
We are collecting extensive data on each located turtle. This is a time consuming process in the field, but, over a period of years, will allow us to compile a detailed description of the local population - its unique characteristics, needs, and factors affecting its sustainability.
Important Data Recorded
For each turtle in our study we record the following data:
- date and time of capture
- physical dimensions of shell
- approximate age
- distinguishing characteristics such as color patterns, shell anomalies, old injuries
We also record information on the habitats in which turtles were found - plant community type, species present, substrate type, and air and soil temperatures.
Goals of the Study
- To determine how box turtles use the site.
- To incorporate the information gathered on box turtles into the land use plan for future development of the Zoo.
- To learn more about the natural history of box turtles on site at the Zoo and in the Piedmont of North Carolina.
During the first field season (2002) we collected data on 47 live turtles throughout the park, in developed and undeveloped areas, in animal exhibits, and, frequently, on roads.
These turtles become part of our study population - they are identified, marked and returned to safe locations in the vicinity where they were found. Five turtles were recaptured at least once. In addition, 4 turtles were found dead on the road.
Of the 47 turtles marked and released during the 2002 field season, 8 were in good condition, 17 were in average condition with normal shell wear, and 23 (49% of all turtles captured) showed evidence of damage or injury: from minor (knicks on marginals) to moderate (3 or more broken or missing marginals, scars or chewed areas on carapace and plastron) to severe (puncture wounds, missing scutes with exposed bone, infection, and signs of respiratory distress, extensive damage from chewing).
Box Turtle Conservation
Box turtles are well designed to cope with a host of natural environmental risks: heavy predation on eggs and juveniles; flooding, fires, drought, below and above average temperatures, habitat destruction from natural causes, outbreaks of disease and parasites.
Human caused disruptions of habitats, removal of individuals for the pet trade, and outright habitat destruction are taking their toll on box turtle populations in North Carolina and elsewhere.
Road are a major source of mortality that box turtles are ill adapted to cope with. As little as 2-3% additive annual mortality from road accidents may be more than box turtle populations can absorb while maintaining population growth.