The Big Turtle Year: Update #2

Species #2: Peninsula cooter (Pseudemys floridana peninsularis)
Species #3: Florida softshell turtle (Apalone ferox)
Species #4: Red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans)
Location: Boyd Hill Nature Preserve (St. Petersburg, Florida)
Date: 11 February 2017
Post by George L. Heinrich

I am back from a recent trip to the Galapagos Islands where I saw lots of really big turtles, but that’s another story and unrelated to The Big Turtle Year. Since my return to Florida, Tim Walsh and I have continued to work with our project partners on planning and logistical concerns that need to be addressed in order for us to find 58 more species during the current calendar year.

Our strategy is to locate as many species as possible in Florida before we begin visiting other regions of the country in the spring. Florida’s diverse habitats support 27 of the 59 species (45.8%) known to occur in the United States. The more species that we can locate in Florida, the less species we will have to search for in other states where they also occur. This will make it possible to focus on other species when we are out of state and decrease the overall cost of the project. We have now raised $3,000 and are very grateful to our sponsors. Individuals who wish to support this conservation education project can donate at our GoFundMe site (www.gofundme.com/BigTurtleYear) or mail checks directly to FTCT as many individuals have done.

We picked up three more species today during the field session of a Turtle Science course that I am currently teaching at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve (St. Petersburg, Florida). This ecologically rich, urban nature preserve supports 10 species of native turtles. With the temperature reaching the low 70s by early afternoon and a sunny sky, nine students joined me in a search for aquatic turtles at a relatively small, man-made, freshwater pond. One peninsula cooter (Pseudemys floridana peninsularis), two Florida softshell turtles (Apalone ferox), and two red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) were observed surface basking and swimming. Although the latter species is native to north Florida, it is not native to the Tampa Bay region. Further, the subspecies T. s. elegans, is not native to the state at all. Due to the pet trade, red-eared sliders are now common in many locations outside of their native range and unfortunately can be found in several countries around the world. In addition to the above, we saw an adult gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) foraging along the side of the trail. Our first four species were all observed at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, but we will be visiting several other sites between now and the end of March.

 The second turtle of The Big Turtle Year, an adult peninsula cooter ( Pseudemys floridana peninsularis ) at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve (St. Petersburg, Florida). Photograph by William Rivera.

The second turtle of The Big Turtle Year, an adult peninsula cooter (Pseudemys floridana peninsularis) at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve (St. Petersburg, Florida). Photograph by William Rivera.

 An adult Florida softshell turtle ( Apalone ferox ) documented at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve (St. Petersburg, Florida). Photograph by William Rivera.

An adult Florida softshell turtle (Apalone ferox) documented at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve (St. Petersburg, Florida). Photograph by William Rivera.

 A non-native red-eared slider ( Trachemys scripta elegans ) observed at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve (St. Petersburg, Florida). Photograph by William Rivera.

A non-native red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) observed at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve (St. Petersburg, Florida). Photograph by William Rivera.