Winter and Spotted Turtles in Medouie

With the dwindling daylight and cooling fall temperatures, the spotted turtles of Medouie Creek have been preparing for hibernation for some time  now. While we humans have enjoyed a beautiful warm and dry fall, the turtles are in need of some real rain soon! Their metabolisms have slowed and they’ve moved into dense shrubby swamps where they have buried deep beneath sphagnum mosses and winterberry holly bushes to spend the winter. All they need now is to fill those holes with water! The lack of rain on Nantucket this fall has left these swamps very dry – turtles need to stay submerged for a successful winter hibernation. Everyone do your very best rain dance!

Spotted Turtle Hibernation

  • Generally they Hibernate from November-March
  • Turtles are ectothermic—they cannot regulate body temperature; and depend on the surrounding environment
  • They Need to stay submerged beneath the ice line to maintain a relatively constant body temperature without freezing
  • Metabolism slows so that their hearts only beat once every 10 mins
  • They do not come out to breathe in the winter but They can absorb some oxygen from the water through blood vessels at the surface of the skin around their throat and anus.

We had a very successful season tracking spotted turtles at Medouie Creek. We are looking forward to working with all the data we collected in order to assess whether the turtles are responding to changes in the marsh since salt water reintroduction. At the start of this fall, we want to give an update on the happenings of four of our turtles that were named and adopted by our SciFund supporters this year!

Barnacle (turtle 232) looking snazzy after receiving a new transmitter after her original failed.

Barnacle (turtle 232) looking snazzy after receiving a new transmitter after her original failed.

Turtle 232 “Barnacle” named by Aiden and Robin O’Dell was quite the socialite early in the season but in July, she made a solo crossing of a small grassland to inhabit a smaller, more open and muddy-bottomed pool. Soon after, we noticed that her transmitter was failing so we replaced it with a new one which was lucky timing as she then moved out of that pool and into an upland Tupelo and Sassafras forest to aestivate for the remainder of the summer and in to the fall. Just last week, she finally headed back to the shrub swamp. She is now buried underneath dense blueberry bushes waiting for rain to fill her winter home!

Waldo (turtle 159) was our only male turtle tracked this year. He was often found partially buried in sphagnum mosses, as above.

Waldo (turtle 159) was our only male turtle tracked this year. He was often found partially buried in sphagnum mosses, as above.

Turtle 159 “Waldo” was named by Matt and Nora Kelly. Waldo lived up to his namesake all summer long and proved very difficult to track and find! He stayed buried deep in the mud in one pool until mid-July when he suddenly began moving throughout the northern part of the Medouie marsh. He’d only stay in one spot for a few days before moving again, but was often found out of the water and partially buried in moist sphagnum mosses. We removed his transmitter at the very end of October and hope to find him again in the spring!

We can guess the age of spotted turtles by counting plastral annuli. She-Ra is so old that her annuli are completely worn away. Our best guess is that she is older than 15 years.

We can guess the age of spotted turtles by counting plastral annuli. She-Ra is so old that her annuli are completely worn away. Our best guess is that she is older than 15 years.

Turtle 1032 “SheRa” is a beautiful old turtle who is our only radio-tracked turtle that we had tracked in a previous season. She’d clearly been through some rough patches in life as evidenced by a large cleft in her carapace likely caused by a run in with a mower in her past. We were very much looking forward to tracking SheRa again this year as it would have been very valuable data to see how her movements and home ranges have changed since restoration. Unfortunately though, her transmitter failed in late June and we were unable to relocate her again. We are very hopeful that we’ll be able to find her again in the spring in her favorite pool and remove her transmitter.

Saying goodbye to Minion for the winter!

Saying goodbye to Minion for the winter!

Finally, Turtle 2004 “Minion”. While Minion moved very little throughout the season, she was incredibly difficult to track. She remained in a very densely vegetated pool with winterberry holly and highbush blueberry that was nearly impossible to move through making pinpointing her exactly location a very frustrating experience! By late July though, the pool completely dried up which caused Minion to move out and seek water elsewhere. Unfortunately, most other pools were dry as well so she eventually buried herself under leaves underneath a horribly dense patch of thorny greenbriar and waited there until the end of October. On Halloween, she moved into a beautiful shrub swamp where we found her with a new, unmarked male. We assume they’ll be spending the winter together there. We removed her transmitter and set her free!

Future spotted turtle work at Medouie Creek

We left one radio-transmitter on a turtle at the end of this season and we will continue to track her periodically this winter. We left her transmitter on because we found her late in the season and missed some important spring movements. This also gives us the opportunity to capture any winter activity and to document when turtles begin emerging from hibernation in the spring. In 2014, we plan to again affix 8-10 turtles with transmitters in order to follow the spotted turtles for one more season after restoration.

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