Searching for Turtles at Nahant Marsh – Matt Strub

This is a Blanding's turtle.

Although our primary goal for the St. Ambrose University Undergraduate Summer Research Institute is to efficiently and professionally complete our research, we also hope to learn how to think and act like scientists. During our first meeting in May, Dr. Trujillo proposed the idea that we could have small side projects or events that would introduce us to various areas of scientific research, which we immediately agreed to. Despite the fact that our current research projects are completely unrelated to chelonology (the study of turtles), we set out to Nahant Marsh to learn about the tracking of Blanding’s turtles.

Sheriff Kenner, making his way to the marsh.

When we arrived at Nahant, Mik briefly introduced us to his research, which involves the trapping and tracking of blanding turtles near the marsh. Blanding’s turtles are a protected species in Iowa and even endangered in some states, including Illinois. When Mik traps a turtle, he measures their lengths and widths and marks them by drilling holes in the outer region of their shells. Three of the turtles in the Marsh have tracking devices on their shells and Mik is able to use a yagi antenna to find their exact locations. After the turtles are trapped and marked, they are released back into the wild, where Mik monitors their locations.

Suited up and ready to go!

After Mik’s introduction, we put on waist high waders and drove closer to the ponds that the turtles are typically found in. After parking on the side of the road, we walked for five minutes until we reached the first pond. We had high expectations for the turtle search. Mitch even predicted that he would catch twenty turtles and make a body armor suit out of their shells. We even decided to make a competition out of it, as “Team 102” (referring to Tiedemann 102, where Mitch, Rob, Kenner, and I live) faced off against Teresa, the future marine biologist. The teams seemed fair to us, although Mitch would later betray us and help Teresa. (I should also mention that Team 102 had Mick and his yagi antenna with us. Advantage: Team 102.)

Mik is leading the way, using the antenna to follow the turtle.

We soon found out, however, that finding turtles wasn’t as easy as it sounded. After approximately an hour of wading through the ponds, we hadn’t found a single turtle, even with the use of the antenna. We were wet and didn’t exactly smell great, and it appeared as if we would be leaving Nahant without seeing any turtles. To make matters worse, the sun came out and Mallory started singing “Here Comes the Sun.” At that point, we were all ready to leave. However, just as we were all ready to give up, the yagi antenna picked up one of the female turtles on land and Rob was able to grab her as she attempted to dig her way into the mud. (Team 102: 1 turtle. Team Teresa: 0 turtles.)

The group was excited when they actually located the turtle they were tracking!

We took turns holding the turtle and Mik answered any questions that we had about her anatomy. Mik also showed us the drill marks in her shell.

Blanding's turtle with location device glued onto her shell. This is the one the group tracked down.

Bye-bye turtle!

After releasing the turtle back to the pond, we were happy to get our waders off. I managed to somehow get about two gallons of water in each leg of my waders. The day turned out to be a huge success, as we all had fun wading through the ponds and finding the turtle. (We kept waiting for somebody to fall in the water, but it never happened.)

A big “thanks” goes out to Mik and Brian at Nahant! We will return to Nahant in a couple weeks to learn about the trapping of the turtles.

You can visit the Nahant Marsh website here:

http://www.nahantmarsh.org/

Mitch and Teresa found some frogs, too!

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