Species #54: Barbour’s map turtle (Graptemys barbouri)
Location: Ichawaynochaway Creek, Jones Ecological Research Center (Baker County, Georgia)
Date: 3 November 2017
Post by George L. Heinrich
My old friend John Byrd (Clinch River Environmental Studies Organization) was planning a long road trip through the Southeast with the goal of finding the best raw oysters. He invited me to tag along and since he also likes turtles and I also like oysters, it seemed likely that this trip would be fun. The species count for The Big Turtle Year (TBTY) stood at 53 and just six species remained on our list to be found, half of which became target species for this nine-day, five-state trip. We met up in Knoxville, the largest city near John’s home, and headed southward to search for an Apalachicola alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys apalachicolae), chicken turtle (Deirochelys reticularia), Barbour’s map turtle (Graptemys barbouri), and of course oysters.
It was a long drive to the Florida panhandle and the only turtles that we saw were basking yellow-bellied sliders (Trachemys s. scripta) and cooters (Pseudemys sp.). I wasn’t too worried since we would be spending the next two days exploring some beautiful habitat at Jones Ecological Research Center (JERC; www.jonesctr.org) in southwestern Georgia where all three of our target species are known to occur. Dr. Lora L. Smith (Staff Scientist, JERC), a long-time friend, had agreed to assist with this conservation education project and she and her staff set a string of seven hoop net traps baited with catfish along Ichawaynochaway Creek on the day before our arrival.
Our first morning at JERC was filled with anticipation and the hope that we would find an Apalachicola alligator snapping turtle in one of the hoop net traps. However, we knew that it would be a long shot since it was late in the season and the water was already getting cold. Lora, John, and I were joined by James Hunt (Research Field Technician, JERC) as we boated a protected, five-mile section of the creek and checked the traps. We did not capture a single turtle that day, but we were fortunate enough to observe three basking turtles which were taking advantage of the warming temperature during the day. Soaking up some rays were an eastern river cooter (Pseudemys c. concinna), yellow-bellied slider, and a large, adult female Barbour’s map turtle, the latter of which became species #54 for The Big Turtle Year. This was particularly exciting as it was the 14th and final species in the genus Graptemys. Our first map turtle, a Mississippi map turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica kohnii), was observed in Texas over six months earlier (see Update #6).
Jones Ecological Research Center consists of a mosaic of habitats and we were lucky to observe a juvenile southern hognose snake (Heterodon simus) that was trapped in the uplands during Lora’s ongoing research. I have seen eastern hognose snakes (H. platyrhinos) in the past, but this was a lifer for me. We also searched for eastern chicken turtles at known wetland sites, but none were to be found. I suppose that it should not have been too much of a surprise since I had searched for this species in four states throughout the year to no avail.