The second session began with a talk from Travis Land, our Herpetology Curator, who spoke about turtle husbandry. He talked about what it means to have a turtle in your care and what they need to survive. Committing to having a turtle for a pet is serious business, so learning about their needs, their life cycle and lifespan is extremely important. I think our participants might have been surprised to learn how complex turtle care can be. For example: food that you are giving a turtle must mimic what they find in the wild; worms, slugs, insects, fruits, leafy greens; all of this is important –some leafy greens can be bad for a turtle, so just finding any old lettuce is not a good idea. You need to do your research when caring for a turtle. Food is just one aspect of turtle care, there are many more to consider!
Travis and Phoebe mark the turtle
After our talk we checked what we caught in the traps, and were in luck! We collected two turtles: a northern red-bellied cooter, and an inter-graded turtle. Different slider species can mate in the wild and produce offspring; many do not have characteristics of either parents but a blend of both, this is what we consider an inter-grade.
Wyatt helps measure the plastron
Participants helped with the measuring and marking of the turtles before they were safely released. This was the first time they had come across wild turtles and were able to handle them, it was an exciting moment. They discovered that “ turtles have completely different personalities” and that “turtles have sharp claws and beaks”.
Grace measures the carapace
After our data collection ended, we walked the boardwalk to observe the turtles that might be out sunning on a log. Unfortunately the water level was high and many of the sunning logs were underwater! So although we spotted some turtles sunning, there weren’t as many as we were accustomed to.
Matt records turtle data
We returned to the main Museum building to learn what to do if you want a career in herpetology. We learned that a career in herpetology can be fascinating and take you to places to learn about animals many people have never seen! For example: Scientists study pelagic sea turtles from NOAA’s oceanic vessels, they study large aquatic salamanders in the streams of Asia, they look at the life cycle of amphibians (frogs, toad and salamanders) and threats to that life cycle on many continents. Depending upon your interest, there are many avenues to explore. Locally students can get involved by volunteering at museums and zoos, or for local wildlife departments or herpetology organizations. Staying in school and continuing on to get an advanced degree is also helpful and will give you more information about what is happening out in the field. Making connections with folks who work with reptiles and amphibians is the best way to discover if this is a career for you. And of course, working on a citizen science project like our very own turtle project, also gives one an idea of what field work is all about.
Julia checks her measurements
Our students went away from today with a lot more information and hands-on experience about the field of herpetology! They commented that “there are way more turtle species than I thought”, that sometimes being a biologist means “getting up early in the morning, I don’t like that”, and “that sometimes field work is hard, but it is fun and hands-on! I love it!”