Alligator snapping turtles back in Illinois, USA


This 2015 video from the USA is called Alligator Snapping Turtle vs Common Snapping Turtle.

From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the USA:

First wild alligator snapping turtle in Illinois since 1984

November 13, 2017

Researchers report the first sighting in 30 years of a wild alligator snapping turtle in Illinois. The discovery may be a sign of hope for this state-endangered species, or the animal could be the last of its kind to have survived in Illinois without human intervention, the researchers say.

The team reports the find in the journal Southeastern Naturalist.

In October 2014, when Illinois Natural History Survey herpetologist Chris Phillips donned a wetsuit and dove to the bottom of Clear Creek in Union County, Illinois, he was looking for a young male alligator snapping turtle with a radio transmitter on its back. That turtle had recently been released in the area to bolster the state-endangered turtle population in southwest Illinois.

“I was just about out of breath when I felt the turtle shell,” Phillips said. “I thought I had found the male turtle I knew was there because I detected its radio signal. I felt along its back to where I thought the shell should end, but my hand just kept going.”

Phillips plucked from the water a 22-pound, 15-inch long female alligator snapping turtle that was twice as long as the one he was looking for, and at least 18 years old. Since she had no tracking device, she was not one of the turtles that had been released into the area. DNA tests showed that she belonged at the site and was not a lone traveler from a southern state. Southern Illinois is at the northern end of the turtle species’ range.

For years, INHS researchers have conducted extensive trapping, and have called for citizen observations along Clear Creek for signs of wild alligator snapping turtles, but to no avail. Populations of this state-endangered species have declined because of habitat changes including dams, drained swamps and river dredging. Only Union and Jackson counties offer the habitat that the turtles need to reproduce and thrive. Locating any wild turtles in these counties will help determine the next steps — whether to preserve a population or reintroduce more alligator snapping turtles in Illinois.

“Bolstering a hidden population of an endangered species is better than starting a new population in the area,” said Ethan Kessler, a graduate student of natural resources and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois and a co-author of the study. “However, since no wild alligator snapping turtles have been found in Illinois since 1984, reintroduction efforts make sense.”

For several years, researchers have purchased turtles reared in a facility and released them at ages 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6. They also released about 90 adult turtles. Most of the animals go into creeks with radio transmitters attached to their backs so they can be relocated and tracked.

Researchers were conducting their biannual catch-and-release program when they found the wild turtle, close to the same spot and 30 years, almost to the day, after their last wild alligator snapping turtle was found.

“Finding this individual does not indicate that there is a functional, stable population of wild alligator snapping turtles in Southern Illinois,” Kessler said. “When a population dies out, a single turtle may wander around like a zombie waiting for the end of its days.”

Alligator snapping turtles can live 100 years, so the researchers working on this project today likely will not witness the advancing seasons of this female’s life. After finding her, the team marked her shell with a notch and attached a radio transmitter to her back for tracking. The transmitter battery died, however, and finding her again in the sediment-filled depths of Clear Creek or elsewhere would be like finding a needle in a haystack, Phillips said.

“She is marked, so in case of an incidental encounter, we will know it’s her,” he said.

One of the challenges of tracking turtles that have been introduced in Illinois is that they disappear underwater and may not be seen again until divers retrieve them.

“If we succeed with our project in introducing a new, viable population of alligator snapping turtles, it’s likely that no one will see them,” Phillips said. “It’s not as if we’re studying bald eagles that soar above us. I may never know the fate of these turtles, but it’s cool to know that this wild space exists in Illinois.”

The alligator snapping turtle is listed as threatened in the U.S.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources funded this research. Mike Dreslik of the INHS and Scott Ballard of IDNR are co-authors of the article. The INHS is a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois.

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Green turtles, new research


This video is called Scuba Dive Hawaii – Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle Eats a Sponge.

From the University of Exeter in England:

Crime-scene technique used to track turtles

November 6, 2017

Scientists have used satellite tracking and a crime-scene technique to discover an important feeding ground for green turtles in the Mediterranean.

University of Exeter researchers measured “stable isotope ratios” — a chemical signature also used by forensic scientists — to discover which foraging grounds turtles had come from to breed in Cyprus.

They discovered that Lake Bardawil, on Egypt’s north coast, is now the most important foraging ground for turtles which breed at Alagadi in Cyprus.

The researchers believe few breeding females came from the Lake Bardawil feeding ground until 2010. It is likely that changes to the ecosystem have made this shallow saline lake a top foraging site.

“Our satellite tracking of turtles breeding in Cyprus has been going on for some years,” said senior author Professor Brendan Godley, director of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

“This meant we knew where many of the turtles went to forage for food, but our preliminary analysis using stable isotope ratios showed a major foraging area had been missed.

“A large proportion of turtles had isotope ratios that did not correspond to sites previously identified, and we tracked five of them. Five out of five went to Lake Bardawil.”

Green turtles swim hundreds of miles between feeding and breeding areas, and the research suggests 82 per of females show “extremely high” consistency in isotope ratios — meaning they keep going back to the same places.

In terms of stable isotope ratios, animals “are what they eat,” meaning tests can reveal where they have spent time.

“This research demonstrates how stable isotope analysis can help us learn more about the lives of species like green turtles,” said first author Dr Phil Bradshaw, also from the University of Exeter.

“Using a combination of this analysis and satellite tracking gives us more reliable data, and this can be used to measure the success of future conservation efforts.”

Feeding the animals is altering the behaviour and eating habits of the green turtle in the Canary Islands (Spain). This is the conclusion of a study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, carried out by a team in which Lluís Cardona, from the Faculty of Biology and the Biodiversity Research Institute of the University of Barcelona (IRBio) takes part. The study, with Catalina Monzón (University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria) as first author, is also signed by experts from ASD Biodiversidad, Oceanografic Foundation, and La Tahonilla and Tafira Wildlife Rescue Centers, in the Canary Islands: here.

How loggerhead turtle Eleanor survived storm


This video says about itself:

In-water behaviour of the loggerhead sea turtle

18 January 2016

Intensive in-water surveys in Laganas bay, Zakynthos, Greece, revealed the existence of two aggregation hotspots for loggerhead sea turtles. The first one, a cleaning station, was occupied primarily by female turtles during their interesting period. The second, a small reef in the shallows, served as a foraging area. The solitary and the social behaviour of the turtles between these two spots was very different. At the cleaning station, female turtles did not involve in any fights, generally tolerating the presence of one another while being cleaned by fish and performing self-cleaning activities. In the foraging spot, on the other hand, which was used mainly by resident males, aggressive fights took place quite often as soon as one turtle was at the vicinity of the other.

Under the scientific guidance of sea turtle behaviour expert Dr. Gail Schofield, we highlight these differences and provide new insights into the in-water behaviour of the loggerhead sea turtle.

From the University of Southern Denmark:

The sea turtle that refused to be beaten by the storm

October 26, 2017

When Eleanor the sea turtle was caught in a tropical storm off the coast of Florida, she coped surprisingly well. In fact, she hardly needed to use any extra energy during the four days the storm raged — and neither was she injured.

As the seas get warmer, Earth suffers the ravages of ever more powerful storms and hurricanes, with massive consequences for both humans and animals. One of the concerns is marine animals, especially endangered species, such as certain whales, manatees, sharks, sea turtles, etc.

A joint Danish/American/Australian team of researchers has discovered that severe weather is not necessarily harmful to individual adult sea turtles. The team was in the process of monitoring sea turtles fitted with GPS transmitters and motion sensors off Sarasota in the USA, when one of the sea turtles was unexpectedly caught in a tropical storm. This provided the team with a unique opportunity to see how a sea turtle would cope with a storm.

“We were delighted to find that she rode out the storm in style without any problem,” says Maria Wilson, a biologist at the University of Southern Denmark (SDU).

The study was conducted in 2012 involving colleagues from Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, Sarasota in Florida, Department of Parks and Wildlife, Marine Science Program in Australia and Aarhus University in Denmark. A scientific article has now been published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

“We know little about how sea turtles manage during hurricanes and tropical storms. Storms could blow sea turtles off course, or surviving a storm could be so exhausting that it drains energy reserves and thus the ability to survive and produce eggs, thereby having a negative impact on the next generation of sea turtles,” explains Wilson.

The tagged sea turtle caught in the storm is named Eleanor. She was at sea in the Mexican Gulf in the egg-laying season when she was hit be the storm. Consequently, she had already nested on one of Florida’s beaches and had returned to the sea to replenish her energy reserves before coming back to lay more.

Eleanor was caught in tropical storm Debby, which passed through the Mexican Gulf between 23rd and 27th June 2012. Debby caused extensive flooding in Florida, reaching wind speeds of up to 100 kph.

Eleanor was tagged for 16 days, four of which were during the storm. Data from the GPS and animal motion tags showed that she drastically changed behaviour when the storm struck. Before the storm, she rested on the seabed, moving only to go to the surface for air.

When the storm struck, she moved further north than expected. According to the researchers, she was forced by prevailing currents. She also changed her diving patterns, becoming much more active instead of saving energy for the next egg-laying event.

“Even though Eleanor swam for most of the four days the storm raged, she was good at saving energy, ending up actually using no more than she would normally use to produce 12 eggs. Given that sea turtles lay somewhere between 300 and 900 eggs during a nesting season, that’s not much. But another fantastic element of Eleanor’s story is that, despite the storm pushing her more than 100 km north of ‘her’ beach, she swam south when it passed and made her nest just 75 metres from her last one — although with a few days’ delay,” adds Wilson.

The researchers calculated Eleanor’s energy consumption based on motion sensors (3D accelerometers and gyroscopes), which detected when she was swimming. How much energy a swimming sea turtle uses had been determined from earlier experiments in the laboratory, making it possible to estimate how much energy they use sea.

Even though it would seem that sea turtles are sufficiently robust to avoid being at the mercy of storms, such a powerful storm can still be a major threat to them.

Sea turtles lay their eggs on the beach, and their nests are extremely vulnerable to passing storms. The storm that Eleanor easily survived destroyed almost 90% of nests on the beach where she and several hundred other female turtles had laid their eggs.”

That’s why Maria Wilson urges more focus on protecting nests and helping newly hatched turtles and less on adults, when the discussion turns to protecting sea turtles.

Goannas have overtaken foxes as the number one predator of the endangered loggerhead turtle at its second largest Queensland nesting beach. A new study has found that since feral red foxes were controlled in the 1980s, there has been an increase in the number goanna raids on loggerhead turtle nests at Wreck Rock beach, south of Agnes Waters: here.

186-year old tortoise and gay rights


This video says about itself:

On Saturday 19 March 2016, an historic event took place in the grounds of Plantation House, St Helena Island.

Jonathan the Giant Tortoise – the oldest known living land animal on Earth and creakingly old national treasure at an estimated age of 184 years – was washed for the first time in recorded history by vet Dr Joe Hollins.

Joe explained that the reason for bathing Jonathan came after he cleaned – and transformed – the shell of one of the female tortoises at Plantation House. Joe consulted a tortoise specialist to establish the method of cleaning, which includes gentle, circular scrubbing using non-abrasive materials. Filmed and Edited: Kimberley Yon – Roberts (SHG’s Press Office).

From Wikipedia:

Jonathan (hatched c. 1832)[1][2] is a Seychelles giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea hololissa) that lives on the island of Saint Helena, a British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic Ocean.

Jonathan was brought to the island from the Seychelles in 1882, along with three other tortoises at about 50 years of age. He was named in the 1930s by Governor Sir Spencer Davis. He continues to live in the grounds of Plantation House, the official residence of the Governor, and belongs to the government of Saint Helena….

If he really was hatched in 1832 he could now be the oldest known living reptile on earth.

In 1991, Jonathan got a female companion, called Frederica.

They mated quite often, but did not produce eggs.

Recently, Frederica was investigated. It turned out the tortoise was probably male and should be called Frederic.

Dutch NOS TV says this discovery may help LGBTQ equality on Saint Helena. Last year there was a proposal on the island for equal marriage for LGBTQ people, but it failed.

Taking about lack of equal rights, limiting ourselves to Africa: in three African countries homosexuality is punished by the death penalty. They are Mauritania, Sudan and Somalia. Especially the regimes of Sudan and Somalia have strong military ties to the ‘free world’ of the NATO governments. I doubt very much whether President Trump and Vice President Pence of the USA mind these regimes’ death penalty for LGBTQ people.

Fossil sea turtle baby, new research


Tasbacka danica, photo by Johan Lindgren

From North Carolina State University in the USA:

Keratin, proteins from 54-million-year-old sea turtle show survival trait evolution

October 17, 2017

Researchers from North Carolina State University, Lund University in Sweden and the University of Hyogo in Japan have retrieved original pigment, beta-keratin and muscle proteins from a 54 million-year-old sea turtle hatchling. The work adds to the growing body of evidence supporting persistence of original molecules over millions of years and also provides direct evidence that a pigment-based survival trait common to modern sea turtles evolved at least 54 million years ago.

Tasbacka danica is a species of sea turtle that lived during the Eocene period, between 56 and 34 million years ago. In 2008 an extremely well-preserved T. danica hatchling was recovered from the Für formation in Jutland, Denmark. The specimen was less than 3 inches (74 millimeters) long. In 2013 paleontologist Johan Lindgren of Lund University uncovered soft tissue residues from an area located near the sea turtle’s left “shoulder.” He collected five small samples for biomolecular analysis.

The shells of modern sea turtle hatchlings are dark colored — this pigmentation gives them protection from aerial predators (such as seagulls) as they float on the ocean surface to breathe. Since turtles are reptiles, and therefore cold-blooded, the dark coloration also allows them to absorb heat from sunlight and regulate their body temperature. This elevated body temperature also allows more rapid growth, reducing the time they are vulnerable at the ocean surface.

The T. danica hatchling specimen appeared to share this coloration with its living counterparts. The researchers observed round organelles in the fossil that could be melanosomes, pigment-containing structures in the skin (or epidermis) that give turtle shells their dark color.

To determine the structural and chemical composition of the soft tissues Lindgren collected and see if the fossil sea turtle did have a dark colored shell, the researchers subjected the sample to a selection of high-resolution analytical techniques, including field emission gun scanning electron microscopy (FEG-SEM), transmission electron microscopy (TEM), in situ immunohistochemistry, time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS), and infrared (IR) microspectroscopy.

Lindgren performed ToF-SIMS on the samples to confirm the presence of heme, eumelanin and proteinaceous molecules — the components of blood, pigment and protein.

Co-author Mary Schweitzer, professor of biological sciences at NC State with a joint appointment at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, performed histochemical analyses of the sample, finding that it tested positive against antibodies for both alpha and beta-keratin, hemoglobin and tropomyosin, a muscle protein. TEM, performed by University of Hyogo evolutionary biologist Takeo Kuriyama, and Schweitzer’s immunogold testing further confirmed the findings.

In the end, the evidence pointed to these molecules as being original to the specimen, confirming that these ancient turtles shared a pigmentation-based survival trait with their modern-day brethren.

“The presence of eukaryotic melanin within a melanosome embedded in a keratin matrix rules out contamination by microbes, because microbes cannot make eukaryotic melanin or keratin,” Schweitzer says. “So we know that these hatchlings had the dark coloration common to modern sea turtles.

“The data not only support the preservation of multiple proteins, but also suggest that coloration was used for physiology as far back as the Eocene, in the same manner as it is today.”

The scientific report on this is here.

Sea turtle conservation works


This video says about itself:

8 May 2012

In Malaysia there is an island known for more sea turtles than virtually anywhere on Earth. Jonathan visits this amazing ecosystem to learn about the life cycle of sea turtles. He is surprised to discover an amazingly complex and competitive environment.

From the American Association for the Advancement of Science in the USA:

Efforts to save sea turtles are a ‘global conservation success story’

September 20, 2017

A new study of the world’s seven sea turtle species provides evidence that their numbers are growing overall (unlike many endangered vertebrates), thanks to years of conservation efforts that have played a key role in sea turtle recovery — even for small sea turtle populations. Sea turtles have historically suffered population declines for reasons that include accidental catch and harvesting adults and eggs.

Such decreases have motivated worldwide conservation efforts since the 1950s to employ tactics like strict fishing regulations and beach protection measures. To examine the current global status of sea turtles, Antonios Mazaris and colleagues studied 4,417 annual estimates of sea turtle nesting abundance based on specific time periods of nesting data collection that ranged in length from six to 47 years.

They used estimates from 2010 or later to evaluate the length of time periods required to detect significant trends in abundance within Regional Management Units (which represent discrete groups of nesting sites in certain areas that are distinct from one another based on genetics, distribution, movement, and demography) for each species, finding a majority of population increases (95 significant increases compared to 35 significant decreases).

Despite the encouraging upward population trends, Mazaris et al.’s results complement International Union of Conservation for Nature (IUCN) assessments of sea turtle status, which lists six sea turtle species as endangered.

The authors also found that while longer time periods of nesting data collection are important for detecting population trends, shorter intervals not currently used by IUCN could still provide important information, though they highlight the need for more updated and continuous nesting site information.

Snail hitchhiking on terrapin, video


This video from South Africa says about itself:

31 May 2017

Unbeknown to it, this Terrapin was hitchhiking a snail, much to the amusement of Franscois and his guests! Video by Franscois Rosslee.