“The wet meadow habitat associated with the Oak Openings Region is some of our best spotted turtle habitat,” Kent Bekker says.
Photo: Chris Hoving/flickr,
creative commons license
Rows of spotted turtle decoys await their use in the field. ZOOTeens used images of the turtles' markings to create these decoys from toys of red-eared slider turtles. Photo: Kent Bekker
Humanely trapping the turtles in funnel traps, like this one, will help herpetologists estimate their health and population numbers in specific habitats. Photo: Kent Bekker
Herpetologists measure the shell of a painted turtle that was recently caught in a funnel trap.
Photo: Kent Bekker
This project is part of the Zoo's Wild Toledo initiative to identify and restore native habitat for local wildlife.
Turtles are tricky animals to catch. Although they’re slow-moving, they often keep to themselves and are hesitant to enter situations that they think look risky. Even something beneficial, like catching them to survey their health and numbers, requires a (humane) turtle trap that they don’t want to enter.
Spotted turtles and Blanding's turtles are of special interest. “They are state-listed in Ohio as threatened species,” Kent Bekker, one of the Zoo’s herpetologists, explains. “With habitat fragmentation, a lot of the historic populations are no longer intact, so we’re trying to determine where they still are and if we can find new habitats for them.”
Research has shown that spotted turtles, in particular, are more likely to enter traps where they think another turtle is already inside waiting. Using a turtle decoy should be easy, right? Not really. No one at the Zoo or in other herpetological groups could find any spotted turtle decoys.
Greg Lipps, an Ohio herpetologist and former Toledo Zoo staffer, had an idea: buy some turtle toys and repaint them to look like spotted turtles.
But it wasn’t that simple. “No toy manufacturer makes an appropriate spotted turtle,” Kent says.
He and Greg did find some red-eared slider turtle toys which were about the right size. Transforming 75 of them into spotted turtle decoys, though, would take one or two people quite a long time.
Through some brainstorming, they came up with a plan: use the Zoo’s retail contacts to get the turtle toys at the best price, then get ZOOTeens for the painting.
The Zoo relies on more than 300 hard-working teen volunteers who help with everything from community outreach to sharing biofacts with visitors to – now – painting spotted turtle decoys.
“ZOOTeens’ dedication to local conservation made this an easy choice,” Kent says. “Some of the teens had a specific art interest, too, so it was a nice little niche for them. And this first came up during the winter months, where there was a little less for them to do.”
It took six ZOOTeens just two days to paint the decoys, using photos that Greg provided. He was able to put them to immediate use in the field throughout this spring, humanely trapping spotted turtles to learn more about their population numbers.
Jr. Field Researcher
As all this was happening, Josh Minor, the Zoo’s manager of Education programs, was finalizing the Zoo’s summer camps. Discussions with Kent about the spotted turtle painting project inspired another idea – why not offer local young people (ages 11-14) an opportunity to get involved, hands-on, in helping wildlife?
Just like that, Jr. Field Researcher camp was added to the schedule.
The projects will focus on the Oak Openings Region and the Lake Erie marshes, Kent says. “We’ll definitely be running some traps for Blanding’s turtles,” he says, along with radio telemetry of eastern fox snakes or Blanding’s turtles.
Space is available in the next Jr. Field Researcher camp
(July 22-26). Reserve a spot today for the young conservationist
in your life.
Learn more about this area's turtle species at the Zoo's native turtle feeds, every Monday at 2:30 p.m. Check out the whole schedule of animal feeds, demonstrations and encounters, free with regular Zoo admission, at toledozoo.org/feedings.