Western Pond Turtle Diseases Studied

wpt-measured_csilbernagelWhy are western pond turtle populations declining? The focus has been on habitat decline and competition from non-native red-eared sliders. Recently, researchers from University of California at Davis, California Department of Fish and Wildlife and US Fish and Wildlife Service teamed up for the first study of western pond turtle diseases.

They found that both the western pond turtles, and the red-eared sliders carried a virus known to cause respiratory infections, especially in southern California. They also found that the turtles were free of herpesvirus, ranavirus and the bacteria salmonella.

Read more about the study on the CDFW Wildlife Investigations Lab blog, here. It includes a link to the abstract of the journal article about the study.

Photo: A western pond turtle is being measured as part of a collaborative study to examine their health. (Photo courtesy of C. Silbernagel, UC Davis)

Wildlife and Infrastructure

terrapincrossingSure, you know all about roads and wildlife, but roads are not the only place that wildlife and human infrastructure can do bad things to each other. Two recent stories point out some of the more unusual ways that wildlife influences modern life, and how our modern structures influence the survival of wildlife. (Although that sounds so serious. One of these stories is “cute,” and the other has been mostly reported as “cute.”)

New York City’s Kennedy Airport is on the shores of Jamaica Bay, which is an estuary off the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to the airport, the bay is also home to the National Park  Service’s Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. This creates all sorts of interesting interactions between airplanes and wildlife, but the story of the last two years has been that diamond terrapins, an aquatic turtle, have been crawling across the airport’s runways in search of nesting sites.

Read the whole story in the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Northeastern Region blog, here.

New York Times Magazine contributor Jon Mooallem has been tracking P.O.C.B.S. — power outages caused by squirrels. He writes about it in the New York Times opinion section. There are many serious potential take-aways in this humorous story, one of which is that no one really knows how many power outages each year are caused by squirrels, or other wildlife.

Read the story in the New York Times, here.

Photo: Yes, that’s a diamondback terrapin crossing a taxiway at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Credit: Port Authority of NY & NJ

August Research Round-up

NYS bobcat- Ohio Department of Natural Resources is studying how and why bobcats have returned to the state, by tracking 21 collared bobcats, The Madison Press reports. Previous research showed that there are two distinct populations of bobcats in the state. DNA analysis showed that the bobcats in both populations are from Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky. Read more in The Madison Press, here.

- David “Doc Quack” Riensche, an East Bay Regional Park District biologist, has been studying western pond turtles in in the eastern foothills of Mount Diablo outside Clayton, California for three years, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The study has collected information on where the turtles winter and lay eggs. Western pond turtles are the only turtle native to California, but they face competition from non-native turtle species. Read more in the San Francisco Chronicle, here.

- Nearly 100 research volunteers surveyed the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma for bats for this year’s “Bat Blitz,” organized by the Southeastern Bat Diversity Network, the Catoosa Times reports. One of the goals of the blitz is to document bat diversity before white nose syndrome harms bat populations in Oklahoma. Read more in the Catoosa Times.

Photo: This bobcat was in New York State. Photo courtesy NYS DEC

NY Snapping Turtle Law Generates Buzz

Snapping_TurtleAll over the Internet, on Facebook, on blogs, on turtle forums and tortoise forums there are requests for New Yorkers to protest a proposed State Assembly bill that would allow trapping of snapping turtles.

I could not find any information on why these members of the New York State Assembly want to re-introduce the trapping of snapping turtles now. But I did find this informative article in the Baltimore City Paper explaining that trapping snapping turtles was banned in the state in 2009.

Ten years ago I researched an article on the global turtle crisis. Scientists and conservationists said that China’s increasing wealth had just about wiped out wild turtles not only in China, but throughout Southeast Asia. The Chinese were importing turtles from Africa and Australia. At the time scientists feared the crisis would reach the United States.

In the US, the southern states were the first to see turtle exports to China. Is the New York State bill an attempt to cash in on the trade? Current New York State law allows hunters to shoot the turtles with guns or arrow, but not live trap them. The Chinese market demands live turtles.

Snapping turtles are common in New York State and elsewhere. What made the global turtle crisis a crisis, however, is that the that the turtles started out common everywhere, but were quickly wiped out.

Read the Assembly bill here.
Read the Baltimore City Paper article here.

Photo: Snapping turtle by Chelsi Hornbaker, courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

No Releases for Desert Tortoises

Desert_tortoiseFor decades, captive tortoises have suffered from a mysterious ailment known as “upper respiratory tract disease.” The disease was known in captive tortoises in Europe and the United States, according to information from the California Turtle and Tortoise Club.

Then, in the 1980s wild desert tortoises in California suffered a major die-off from the disease.

The threat of spreading that disease to wild tortoise populations in Arizona is one of the many reasons why the Arizona Game and Fish Department does not allow the release into the wild of tortoises that have been handled for any length of time. The department cares for as many of the tortoises as it can, and also runs an adopt-a-tortoise program.

Last year the department cared for over 40 tortoises at one time.

“I can’t stress enough how detrimental it could be for both the captive and wild tortoises to release a captive tortoise in the wild,” Zen Mocarski, a department public information officer said in an AZGFD newsletter. “Along with potential disease issues and displacement, captive tortoises are not prepared to find food and water in an unfamiliar area and often die.”

Read the AZGFD newsletter item, here. (It is the third story from the bottom.)
Read the California Turtle and Tortoise Club’s upper respiratory tract disease fact sheet, here.

Photo: This desert tortoise is in Nevada. Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Turtles, Cougars, and Frogs in the Southwest

The current issue of Southwestern Naturalist has several articles that may be of interest to biologists outside of the region.

Yellow mud turtles decline in the Midwest. The largest populations of yellow mud turtles in Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri have experienced severe declines. Withdrawal of water from aquifers is the main cause, but the growth of woody plants also plays a role. Read the article, here. (Requires fee or subscription for full article.)
More info on yellow mud turtles from Texas Parks and Wildlife, here.

Cougar habitat in Texas and northern Mexico. Researchers from Sul Ross State University tested a model of current and potential cougar (Puma concolor) in Texas and northern Mexico and found that it worked. Read the article here. (Same for fees or subscription.)

Fungus strikes desert frogs. Chytrid fungus was found in desert oasis frog populations in Baja California Sur. The oases with higher infection rates also had bullfrogs and non-native crayfish. Read the article here.

Also interesting: Western red bats (Lasiurus blossevillii) and Arizona myotis (Myotis occultus) were found on the lower Arizona River after the area was restored. The Arizona myotis had been extirpated from the area, and the western red bat had not be found there previously. Read the article here.

Non-native Turtle Numbers Up Again in AZ

Turtles from Phoenix Zoo pondThe Phoenix Zoo has been trying to get rid of the non-native turtles in the pond in the park near its entrance since 1999. The number of turtle species not native to Arizona found in the pond had declined over the last 13 years, but this year there was an increase. 142 non-native turtles were trapped, including 139 pond sliders, one spiny softshell, one painted turtle, and one eastern redbelly turtle.

Biologists believe that the turtles are released pets, saying that the turtles show signs of captivity.

The non-native female turtles that are trapped are brought to a turtle sanctuary for adoption, while the males are released back into the pond.

Read a brief story at CBS5 TV, here.
Read a more detailed release from the Arizona Fish and Game Department, here. (Second story from the bottom.)

Photo courtesy Arizona Fish and Game Department

Solar Flares Over Desert Protection

Which is more important, to save the global environment or to protect a particular ecosystem?

An article in the Los Angeles Times says that big, national environmental groups are leaning toward saving the planet even at the cost of rare and valuable ecosystems, frustrating local environmental groups who want to preserve those ecosystems.

The current arena is the Mojave Desert, where massive solar projects could provide power to southern California’s throngs, but where the fragile desert and its inhabitants would be better off being left alone.

With the big guns backing the solar projects, the only advocates for animals like the desert tortoise are the small, local enviro groups.

Read the article in the Los Angeles Times.

Photo: Desert tortoise by Rachel London, courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service

Ranavirus Hits Maryland

An “alarming number” of tiny box turtles have been found dead in Maryland during a highway-construction relocation study, The Washington Post reports. The cause of death for 26 of the 31 turtles found dead is ranavirus, which shows measles- or herpes-like symptoms in reptiles and amphibians, the article reports.

The virus has also effected local frogs and salamanders, but turtles are the big concern because they breed much more slowly, the article says.

Scott Smith, a wildlife ecologist for Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources, is quoted in the article twice, including:

Smith of the Natural Resources Department said state wildlife officials are so concerned that they have applied for research funding from the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians. State budgets are too strapped to fund the necessary research, he said.

Read the entire Washington Post article, here. It includes a link to a video of a gasping box turtle. Seriously.

This Extinction Countdown blog post from Scientific American from 2010, points to these journal articles on ranavirus:
2010 – Animal Conservation
Archives of Virology
Journal of Wildlife Diseases

Photo: Box turtle by Laura Perlick, courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service

Artificial Nest Sites for Wood Turtles

Scientists built an artificial nesting mound for wood turtles in the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey when development and invasive plants made the original site less viable. A paper in the journal Northeastern Naturalist describes the successful transfer of nesting turtles from one site to the other. The mound has produced 142 nestling wood turtles in four years.

But more important than describing the success, the paper gives an idea what was required to produce it. The artificial mound was just 100 meters from the old mound. Nest-bound females were fetched from the old site and hand-carried to the new site. While one turtle returned to the artificial mound for the next three years, several others were brought back from the old site in another year.

Read the whole article, subscription or fee required.

Photo: cliff1066(TM) via Flickr