The Big Turtle Year: Update #3

Species #5: Florida red-bellied cooter (Pseudemys nelsoni)
Species #6: Suwannee cooter (Pseudemys concinna suwanniensis)
Location: Ichetucknee Springs State Park (Columbia County, Florida) 
Date: 19 March 2017
Post by George L. Heinrich

After leaving St. Petersburg at 5:00 am and driving 189 miles north to Ichetucknee Springs State Park (Columbia County, Florida), Andrew Farren and I joined two of The Big Turtle Year’s partners: Dr. Jerry Johnston (Santa Fe College) and Eric Munscher (Turtle Survival Alliance - North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group) for a turtle survey on the spring-fed Ichetucknee River. This research project began in 2013 and is led by Jerry and Eric, along with co-principal investigator Dr. Joseph Mitchell (Mitchell Ecological Research Service). Nearly 60 individuals who really like turtles were there to canoe, snorkel, and capture as many as possible. Andrew and I found a Florida red-bellied cooter (Pseudemys nelsoni) and a Suwannee cooter (Pseudemys concinna suwanniensis) swimming in the thick eel grass that covered most of the bottom of the section that we worked.

The fifth species of The Big Turtle Year, a large, adult female Florida red-bellied cooter (Pseudemys nelsoni), at Ichetucknee Springs State Park (Columbia County, Florida). Note the cusp on the upper jaw, a distinguishing characteristic not present in the other two species of cooters that occur in Florida. Photograph by George L. Heinrich.

The fifth species of The Big Turtle Year, a large, adult female Florida red-bellied cooter (Pseudemys nelsoni), at Ichetucknee Springs State Park (Columbia County, Florida). Note the cusp on the upper jaw, a distinguishing characteristic not present in the other two species of cooters that occur in Florida. Photograph by George L. Heinrich.

TBTY partner Andrew Farren holding a female Suwannee cooter (Pseudemys concinna suwanniensis), the sixth species of The Big Turtle Year, at Ichetucknee Springs State Park (Columbia County, Florida). Photograph by George L. Heinrich.

TBTY partner Andrew Farren holding a female Suwannee cooter (Pseudemys concinna suwanniensis), the sixth species of The Big Turtle Year, at Ichetucknee Springs State Park (Columbia County, Florida). Photograph by George L. Heinrich.

That brings our count up to six species and completes the three species of Pseudemys which occur in Florida. Four additional species were captured by other snorkelers: peninsula cooter (Pseudemys floridana peninsularis), yellow-bellied slider (Trachemys s. scripta), loggerhead musk turtle (Sternotherus m. minor), and common musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus). I had already observed the first two species in February (see The Big Turtle Year: Update #2). Just to keep things honest, the musk turtles were not included in the count for The Big Turtle Year since I neither saw nor captured either species. In fact, the first time that I saw them they were in large plastic containers at the processing station. I will be chasing turtles on three central Florida rivers during the next two months, so I expect to get the two species of musk turtles at that time. 

The TSA - North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group just started their weeklong spring break sample of seven Florida springs. To learn more about this energetic research group and how you can support their important research and conservation work, please visit the following: 

www.facebook.com/naftrg/

www.turtlesurvival.org/component/…/term/summary/27/4…

To learn more about Dr. Jerry Johnston’s and Eric Munscher’s work, please visit our Partners page.

You can also learn about some earlier turtle work that was conducted on the Ichetucknee River here: www.herpconbio.org/Vo…/Issue_1/Chapin_Meylan_2011.pdf.

TBTY partner Dr. Jerry Johnston (Santa Fe College) measuring the plastron of a Suwannee cooter (Pseudemys concinna suwanniensis) at Ichetucknee Springs State Park (Columbia County, Florida). Photograph by George L. Heinrich.

TBTY partner Dr. Jerry Johnston (Santa Fe College) measuring the plastron of a Suwannee cooter (Pseudemys concinna suwanniensis) at Ichetucknee Springs State Park (Columbia County, Florida). Photograph by George L. Heinrich.

TBTY partner Eric Munscher (TSA - North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group) measuring a musk turtle (Sternotherus sp.) at Ichetucknee Springs State Park (Columbia County, Florida). Photograph by George L. Heinrich.

TBTY partner Eric Munscher (TSA - North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group) measuring a musk turtle (Sternotherus sp.) at Ichetucknee Springs State Park (Columbia County, Florida). Photograph by George L. Heinrich.

Dr. Joseph Mitchell (Mitchell Ecological Research Service) measuring the plastron of a juvenile Suwannee cooter (Pseudemys concinna suwanniensis) at Ichetucknee Springs State Park (Columbia County, Florida). Photograph by George L. Heinrich.

Dr. Joseph Mitchell (Mitchell Ecological Research Service) measuring the plastron of a juvenile Suwannee cooter (Pseudemys concinna suwanniensis) at Ichetucknee Springs State Park (Columbia County, Florida). Photograph by George L. Heinrich.

TBTY partner Andrew Farren photographing an adult female yellow-bellied slider (Trachemys s. scripta) at Ichetucknee Springs State Park (Columbia County, Florida). Photograph by George L. Heinrich.

TBTY partner Andrew Farren photographing an adult female yellow-bellied slider (Trachemys s. scripta) at Ichetucknee Springs State Park (Columbia County, Florida). Photograph by George L. Heinrich.