High-Tech Turtles

River Fork Ranch Preserve in the Carson Valley

If you’re a turtle, the latest smartphone or computer is likely the last thing on your mind. But if you’re a scientist trying to help turtles, technology is an invaluable tool.

Western pond turtles live at our River Fork Ranch Preserve in the Carson Valley, but we don’t know much about their habits, movements or histories.

In order to learn more about these turtles, we launched a study of pond turtles at River Fork Ranch Preserve—with help from the American Turtle Observatory and Nevada Department of Wildlife—using radio telemetry and genetic analyses.

Volunteers—including four Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) interns—followed strict reptile handling protocols to capture and assess 80 individual turtles.

The LEAF interns were four young women from Rhode Island who spent a month at our River Fork Ranch Preserve in the Carson Valley. These high school students got hands-on job training in the environmental world. The teens restored important habitats and learned about the crucial roles they play for nature and people.

Capturing the turtles was no easy task. The research team set 100 traps around the 800-acre preserve. Then, they checked the traps every two hours over the course of ten days. Captured pond turtles were marked, measured, weighed and photographed. Scientists also recorded details about each turtle, including health, age and sex.

The researchers also fitted 15 of the captured turtles with telemetry transmitters to track their movements. The telemetry units are roughly the size of a person's pinkie finger nail with a 10-inch antenna. The adhesive on the transmitters was camouflaged before the turtles were returned to their habitat.

Once the research answers our questions about the turtles, we can do a better job of protecting them and their habitat in the future.

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