Researcher working to survey snapping turtle population health in NB
Snapping turtle populations in Canada are declining and a researcher is on a mission to assess reptile health in New Brunswick.
“While we don’t have the data from New Brunswick to show the declines, we know they have the same threats in New Brunswick as elsewhere,” said Connie Browne, research associate at the New Brunswick Museum. Braunschweig.
“So it’s very likely that they’re going down in New Brunswick as well.”
Browne said the decline of snapping turtles has a lot to do with human influence.
Thanks to a dearth of natural predators and the protection afforded by their shells, Browne said snapping turtles have a high survival rate and often live up to 50 to 100 years. She said they don’t even start breeding until they are around 20 years old.
But human activity has introduced new threats to turtles, such as being run over by cars on the road or machinery in agricultural fields, or accidentally caught by fishermen.
Browne said that although snapping turtle eggs have the highest mortality rate, it is the death of adult turtles that causes the population decline.
“This turtle had to survive for at least 20 years with all the dangers of an egg, a hatchling, and a young turtle to grow to this large size,” Browne said. “And he’s just starting to get the opportunity to reproduce and try to replace himself.”
Determining population health in NB
Browne recently spent six weeks in the field researching snapping turtles in New Brunswick. She said she had been to sites that had documented documents from the past, but none in the past 10 years. This included a few sites along the Hammond River.
Five of the six sites she visited had no snapping turtles. She said she had encountered people in the Hammond River and Mispec River watersheds and no one had seen a snapping turtle recently.
But Browne caught six turtles at the Pocologan River site. She did not see any near Durham Bridge, but was able to confirm their presence thanks to the photos shown to her by local residents.
When Browne caught the turtles at the Pocologan site, she measured their shells, which she says is a good way to determine a turtle’s age. She said a healthy population should all be different sizes, meaning there are adults and juveniles.
“Whether [there] were no juveniles, that could be an indication that something is going on in the nests, possibly high predation rates on the nest,” Browne said. “If you don’t have very old turtles, that could tell us that something is going on with the adults.”
She also looked at the sex ratio. A lack of female snapping turtles could indicate that something is happening to turtles as they move to nesting beaches.
Browne said the Pocologan site was “in good condition”, with a good mix of juveniles and adults and males and females.
She said the site near Fredericton had lots of great habitat, but she identified some threats. These include turtles nesting on dirt roads where grading machines could destroy their nests. She also identified an all-terrain vehicle trail where smaller turtles were impacted.
Browne plans to pass this information on to the government.
She asked New Brunswick residents to help with the research by taking pictures of the turtles they see and sending them to her at the museum. She said experts would examine the photo and identify the type of turtle. Then the photo becomes research-grade data, Browne said.
“It would be really nice if people [could] send in as many sightings as possible,” Browne said. “It really helps us get an idea of where they are, and the number of records from areas also gives us an idea of their abundance.”
Information Morning – Fredericton11:23Snapping Turtle Survey