Last week, Arb Manager Matt Elbert found a rare Wood Turtle basking on a sandbar in the Lower Arb. These reclusive turtles are observed only once or twice each year in the Arb and are considered a “threatened” species in Minnesota. As its scientific name, Glyptemys insculpta, implies, Wood Turtles have ornately patterned shells that resemble wooden engravings and distinguish them from the more common Painted Turtles also found in the Arb.
Elbert and the student Arb crew workers managed to corral the female Wood Turtle and snap a few photos before letting her return to a sun-filled day at the beach. Because the plastrons of Wood Turtles (herpetology slang for the part of a shell covering a turtle’s belly) have dark markings unique to each turtle, these photos can be used to identify the female if she is ever caught again.
Wood Turtles require forested riverine ecosystems but as suitable habitat was lost to agriculture and development, their populations have declined. The Arb has taken several steps to conserve Wood Turtles including habitat restoration along the Cannon River and the creation of Turtle Pond, designed to let turtles lay their eggs in a place relatively safe from predators like raccoons. Additionally, Mike Mullin ‘00 led a study to monitor the Wood Turtle population in the Cannon River using radio telemetry in the 1999. Last summer one of the radio transmitter-equipped turtles (now at least 20 years old) was photographed in the river! This sighting plus the discovery of a previously unrecorded female last week give Arb management hope that a small but healthy population of Wood Turtles is calling the Arb home.
On a different note, the Arb’s annual bird count is fast-approaching. Regardless of your experience, we invite you to help us survey our feathered friends of the Arb! We will meet bright and early at 6:00 A.M. on Saturday, May 12 in the Arboretum Office.