Eastern Box Turtle Monitoring Project

Eastern Box Turtle

Grand Valley State University(GVSU) graduate student Patrick Laarman has been tracking adult Eastern Box turtles, protecting nests, and waiting for eggs to hatch for the past three summers as a seasonal employee on the Huron-Manistee National Forest. This monitoring project is a partnership between his school and the Forest.

In May and June, female turtles come out of the woods, scope out a spot in a grassy forest opening, dig a hole, lay their eggs, and then cover them with dirt. After a selected female turtle leaves, Laarman and GVSU student volunteers put a mesh box over the nest to protect it from large predators. Then they wait – up to 45 days – for the eggs to hatch. Once the hatchlings emerge, they’re weighed, measured and fit with a radio transmitter (if large enough). About the size of a tiny mint, the transmitter is glued to their shell with a non-toxic epoxy that will keep the radio in place for at least a couple of months. Each turtle is assigned a unique radio frequency to help locate and identify them. As they grow, the radio-fitted turtles receive larger ones that do not impede their travels.

Even with a radio signal, these turtles are hard to find as they are adept at camouflage thanks to their coloring and habitat (logs, trees, grass). To complicate matters further, babies tend to bury under the top layer of grass and dirt.

The monitoring allows Patrick to collect data such as:

  • Habits of adults (where they prefer to spend their time)
  • Nesting site preferences of the females
  • How far they travel over the course of a year or two
  • Temperature of the air and soil.

The data is entered into a habitat model used to develop an environmental analysis of the turtle’s nesting area and determine how to manage grassy forest openings. Creating and maintaining openings is essential because they are not only used by turtles, but also other animals and pollinators.

The Eastern Box Turtle is just one of the 37 turtle species in the Eastern Region of the Forest Service.

By: Kate Salm, Public Affairs Specialist on the Huron-Manistee National Forest