Friday, March 23, 2012

Blanding's on the Move

La Niña has blessed Michigan with some consistent, unseasonably HOT weather this week. Early in the week, temperatures ranged form the low to high 80s and then have been in the 70s beyond that. This weather trend has of course brought out herps much earlier than usual and has even got some of them moving. Turtles have been especially active, moving from one body of water another. Blanding's turtles have been especially active, and on Tuesday of this week I observed more than a dozen of them in a three hour span in the early afternoon not far from campus.

Blanding's Turtle - Emydoidea blandingii

For those who don't know, the Blanding's Turtle is one of Michigan's larger and more impressive turtle species. It can be easily distinguished by its highly domed carapace, long neck, and bright yellow throat. Blanding's prefer clear, shallow waters with abundant emergent vegetation. They inhabit emergent marshes, vernal pools, river backwaters, ponds, fens, and oxbows. I spotted this individual basking around noon in a shallow oxbow near a river and snapped a few shots. While taking photos, I noticed some movement out of the corner of my eye and saw this pair basking about 30 yards from this individual.

This oxbow is a temporary pool and will eventually dry up over the course of the year. Because this species often utilizes temporary or vernal aquatic habitats, they often move over the land over the course of the year to find new refugia. This makes them extremely susceptible to road mortality as much of these corridors are often fragmented due to human development and roadways. Sadly, even in a 35 mph zone these turtles get hit by ignorant motorists.

I can't really speculate as to whether or not this turtle was hit intentionally. But I've seen plenty of Blanding's crossing roads and they're very difficult to overlook in the roadway, especially in a 35 mph zone. Maybe the driver hit it intentionally or maybe they were just one of many distracted drivers who text or fiddle with other things in the car while they drive. It always gives me a sick feeling in my stomach to see a protected species hit like this, but its the reality of the current environment this species exists within. But, in some less traveled roads Blanding's have a better chance of crossing a roadway successfully.

This big fella was found crossing a back country road within the vast agricultural lands of mid-Michigan from one small cattail marsh to another, which can be seen in the background of the first photo above. This male was extremely large and was probably the largest Blanding's Turtle I've ever seen. While I snapped a few voucher photos of him, I heard a familiar noise behind me and looked over to see this female heading towards the road as well.

Blanding's Turtle - Emydoidea blandingii

A relatively young individual, she was brilliantly marked and one of the nicest examples of the species I've ever seen. I snapped a few photos and then scooted her across the road in the direction she was heading. I drove several other roads and saw many others from a distance in roadside marshes and buttonbush swamps and then cruised this adult male in virtually the middle of nowhere.

This turtle was crossing amid a large area of corn and soybean fields with only a hint of a wetland several hundred yards away in the direction he was heading. This goes to show that this species often makes large movements throughout the year to go from water source to water source and often leads them across roadways. With enough problems with nest predation by raccoons and loss of habitat, please be mindful that this species is on the move right now. Please slow down a little bit, and help any turtles you see on roads across.

1 comment:

  1. Nick, some stellar photography of arguable the coolest turtle in our area :)

    Sickens me seeing squashed turtles on the road like that...espcially when you see a squashed turtle on the shoulder that was definitely hit intentionally.

    Happy herping!