Species #48: Razorback musk turtle (Sternotherus carinatus)
Species #49: Pearl River map turtle (Graptemys pearlensis)
Species #50: Ringed map turtle (Graptemys oculifera)
Location: Bogue Chitto River (Walthall County, Mississippi)
Date: 20 October 2017
Species #51: Ouachita map turtle (Graptemys ouachitensis)
Location: Big Black River (Warren County, Mississippi)
Date: 21 October 2017
Species #52: Midland smooth softshell turtle (Apalone m. mutica)
Location: Big Black River (Hinds County, Mississippi)
Date: 21 October 2017
Species #53: Eastern mud turtle (Kinosternon s. subrubrum)
Location: Forrest County, Mississippi
Date: 21 October 2017
Post by George L. Heinrich
Hurricane Harvey forced us to postpone an earlier trip to Mississippi, but that just provided more time for planning. As you can imagine, addressing logistical concerns for a project the size of The Big Turtle Year (TBTY) is time consuming. Mississippi’s significant habitat diversity supports a rich turtle fauna (29 species have been documented) and we needed to see five. We would have been searching for two additional species, but Tim Walsh and I had an extra day at the end of our Alabama trip back in June and we used that time to visit a couple of bridge sites in southeastern Mississippi where we checked off two endemic map turtles (Graptemys sp.; see Update #12).
This trip was going to be our last opportunity to find several species, so Tim Walsh and I spent a considerable amount of time studying maps. Discussions with Dr. Peter V. Lindeman (Edinboro University of Pennsylvania), Grover Brown (The University of Southern Mississippi), and Dr. Will Selman (Millsaps College) regarding logistics were of great value and increased the likelihood of finding our target species. Further, Grover agreed to join us in the field and even offered to set hoop net traps to try to capture a razorback musk turtle (Sternotherus carinatus) on the first river that we would visit, the Bogue Chitto in southern Mississippi. This species is the subject of his dissertation work and I was banking on his knowledge and experience.
Michael Bargeron (California Turtle and Tortoise Society) and I met in New Orleans and planned to travel together during the six-day trip. Michael was responsible for our travel itinerary when I visited southern California to search for two western species back in early May and he did a fantastic job (see Update #7). I was really looking forward to spending time in the field with him again. The next morning, we met up with the rest of the team at the canoe outfitter on the Bogue Chitto River. Dirk Stevenson (Altamaha Environmental Consulting), Andy Day (independent environmental consultant), Ryan Burner (Louisiana State University), and Grover Brown had traveled from throughout the Southeast to join in the fun and advance the species count for TBTY. We expected to reach our 50th species during this trip, a milestone after spending nearly a year looking for turtles across the United States. It was also likely to be our last trip where we would find multiple species needed for TBTY as the rest would require several visits to wide-ranging locations.
After a delayed start getting transported upriver, we immediately checked the string of hoop net traps which Grover set the previous day. In a matter of minutes we had the only razorback musk turtle of the trip and species #48 for TBTY. I was quite pleased as this was not the first trip where we looked for this large kinosternid, but it would be our last trip within its range. I am grateful to Grover for making this happen!
I had the opportunity to join a field trip on the Bogue Chitto River (led by Dr. Peter V. Lindeman) a year earlier, so I knew that we had a great chance of seeing the Pearl River map turtle (Graptemys pearlensis) and ringed map turtle (Graptemys oculifera), broad-headed and narrow-headed species respectively. Peter is recognized as the top authority on the genus Graptemys and is no doubt their biggest fan. His book, “The Map Turtle and Sawback Atlas: Ecology, Evolution, Distribution, and Conservation” published by University of Oklahoma Press in 2013, will be the reference on this genus for years to come.
The range of the Pearl River map turtle and ringed map turtle is restricted to the Pearl River drainage in south-central Mississippi and two parishes in southeastern Louisiana. Although the Pearl River map turtle has no federal or state listings, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists it as endangered with decreasing populations. The ringed map turtle, however, is federally listed as threatened, listed as endangered in Mississippi, and listed as threatened in Louisiana. Fortunately, both species occur within federal and state protected habitat within part of their range.
Our daylong paddle provided plenty of opportunities to view and photograph both the Pearl River map turtle and ringed map turtle, #49 and #50 for TBTY, respectively. It was a thrill to hit the 50 species mark with the ringed map turtle, which is certainly one of the most beautiful turtles in the United States. In just one day we had observed three species of turtles, all of which we wanted to find on this river and all needed for TBTY. In addition, we observed several eastern river cooters (Pseudemys c. concinna), several red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans), and a single common musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus).