Thursday, April 25, 2013

Spotties in SE Michigan

The plight of the Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) across its range has been well documented, particularly in the midwest where it reaches it's western range limit. Here, it still occurs in small pockets of habitat in a fragmented and developed landscape. This is particularly true of Michigan, especially in the southeast part of the lower peninsula where the population center occurs. There are historic records for virtually every county in this region of the state, but because of urban sprawl most of these isolated populations have since become extirpated. Some property owners that I know in southeast Michigan had mentioned some peculiar looking turtles in the past and on a warm spring day, Jason Folt and I were given the opportunity to go check out the area. We were led to a large ephemeral wetland which was connected to a larger ditch. We split up and carefully checked the edges of the wetland for basking turtles.

Although spotties usually inhabit high quality fens and other wetlands in Michigan, they can also be found in temporary wetlands such as ditches and vernal pools. Usually these temporary sites which they utilize in the spring are close to a larger patch of habitat with a more permanent water source, but this was not the case with this particular area. This area is highly fragmented with lots of houses and agricultural fields, the only good source of water was the deeper ditch that this wetland connected to. It's likely that the turtles at this location stay active until the main ditch becomes dry and then simply estivate for the hottest parts of the year. As we were walking the edge of the wetland, I noticed the glare of a dark carapace basking near the edge of the wetland.

I gave Jason a shout and he made his way over to observe the turtle. It was an adult male, and probably a fairly old fella based on this completely smooth carapace. We took a quick look at him and then set up shop for a brief photo session. As you can see from the photo below, the majority of this area is a forest wetland with scattered logs and cattails.

Spotted Turtle - Clemmys guttata

A good looking turtle no doubt, but a more exciting find due to the area we were in. This was the third turtle that the property owners have seen this spring, all have been males. Earlier in the week, they had found a much younger looking animal in comparison to the one we found, which gives the hope that there could be some reproduction going on at this site.

A female or juvenile turtle would be an even more exciting find, but the fact that a state Threatened species exists in this fragmented area of southeast Michigan at all is exciting as well. It's also comforting that this small relict population exists a on property where the landowners are not only conscious about this species being here, but also passionate about preserving it. As always, I'd like to thank the property owners for their hospitality and allowing us to come out to see these animals, it was a real treat.


  1. Very well-written. I enjoyed learning about these guys. Thanks, Nick!

  2. Great write-up, Nick. Such an awesome species.