Spring in the southeast: In search of Spotted Turtles



By Trina Wantman

During spring 2019, the Longleaf Savannas crew spent the majority of our time conducting inventory surveys for Spotted Turtles (Clemmys guttata) in Georgia and Florida. As a Spotted Turtle Technician, I traveled between both states locating and surveying potential habitat for this cryptic species. Daily tasks included setting traps and conducting visual encounter surveys (VES) in search of turtles. When Spotted Turtles were located I processed each individual by measuring and marking them. Some individuals even had radio transmitters, and I was able to track these turtles after they were released. There were opportunities to help out with outreach programs and networking with professionals. Through my travels I networked with Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, helped technicians from other organizations with their projects, and learned more about land management through Orianne’s land management team. This position has been greatly influential in furthering my career by teaching me more about Spotted Turtles, their potential habitats, and collecting accurate data while in tough field conditions.

One memorable field experience from this position was finding a hatchling Spotted Turtle. I was at a site where it was likely I would find some turtles; that day I had already found a few. I was meandering around the survey area about halfway through my day. I noticed a Spotted Turtle basking on a log, when she realized I had seen her she slid into the water. I scuttled over to her last location and started sifting through the vegetation. I quickly found her and as I brought my hand up to the surface with my newly captured turtle I noticed more movement right below the surface. When I reached down with my other hand I realized it was a hatchling Spotted Turtle. It was no larger than a quarter; an exciting find! It was the first hatchling found at that site, the second found this field season. The first was found by Ben Stegenga a few weeks earlier at a site in Florida. There is such a rush of excitement and adrenaline flowing through your veins associated with such a find. It is good to confirm that Spotted Turtles are successfully breeding at this site.

Even when we weren’t finding Spotted Turtles in the field, every week was an adventure. Whether it was finding an Eastern King Snake (Lampropeltis getula), Florida Softshell (Apalone ferox) or baby American Alligators (Alligator mississippiensis), there was never a dull moment. There were even a few lifers for me; I had to opportunity to find my first Mud Snake (Farancia abacura) and Eastern Coral Snake (Micrurus fulvius) during my time in the southeast! The Coral Snake was a lucky find on my last day in the field! For the bird nerds there were always plenty of avian species to spot! Coming from New England, a few species I was excited to find were Common Gallinules (Gallinula galeata), American Coots (Fulica americana), Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber), and Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis). The position never got boring; every day in the field was different. Even if I was meanduring the same sites I would find different species, and see new views. Every step was an adventure; at some sites with each step I didn’t know if you would sink an inch or 2 feet into the mud! A few times walking around in the wetlands, with the help from colleges, I stumbled across giant Bald Cypress trees (Taxodium distichum) hundreds of years old! Some around 5 to 6 meters in diameter! Other locations were so brightly colored with different shades of green it was hard to focus on anything but the wetland’s beauty. Working for the Orianne Society was an experience I will never forget and I hope I can work with the organization again in the future!