Within the last week I’ve begun a series of box turtles surveys. In Pennsylvania, box turtles are threatened by habitat destruction and fragmentation, pollution, pesticide application, vehicle strikes, and predation. As box turtles are important omnivores within the park, and are granted a vulnerable status by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, local populations need to be more heavily monitored in order to determine potential gender shifts, age trends, and habitat distribution over time. With two previous installments of this study in Valley Forge, my ongoing research can now serve as a third data point necessary in establishing such trends. Our findings will hopefully influence future conservation efforts within the park.
Looking for box turtles, whether by myself or with a larger group of volunteers and/or staff, feels like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Surveys are meant to be systematic sweeps of meadow and forest, but can tend to unravel in forested areas with dense undergrowth. It’s quite possible that I’ll only locate several turtles throughout the remaining summer days. I can’t help but wonder how many turtles I overlook or are within 10 feet of me as I push vines aside and hop over logs, too preoccupied with myself to look carefully at my surroundings. When I found my first turtle, it felt as though I had just stumbled upon gold ore cast down to the ground and long-forgotten. The marbled scales that cover the turtle’s backs look like weathered gems. After oohing and ahhing, I finally processed the turtle, getting valuable data (i.e. gender, age, condition, capture status, size). I’m excited to spend many more hours looking for these coveted creatures and aid in conservation research.