Turtle Headstarting Program

Box Turtle hatchlings, photo © Tom Cunningham

Box Turtle hatchling emerging from nest, photo © Tom Cunningham

In an effort to conserve wild turtle populations in rapid decline, researchers in Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks are tracking female Spotted (Clemmys gutatta), Wood (Glyptemys insculpta), and Eastern Box (Terrapene carolina) turtles using radio-telemetry. Studying turtle movements and habitat use aids in species protection and wildlife managment decisions. By specifically following female turtles we can also protect their nests from predators like raccoons, in turn giving the hatchlings a “head start” at life.

Juvenile Wood Turtle

Protected nests are checked daily in the fall for hatchlings, and some of these hatchlings become the stars of our Headstarting Exhibit in the Reptile and Amphibian House (the other hatchlings live elsewhere at the zoo). Once they reach the appropriate size to escape predation, about 1-3 years of age, the hatchlings are released back into their original habitat.
In the beginning of summer 2010 Trailside staff released the first cohort of wood turtle hatchlings. Support from the Norcross Wildlife Foundation allowed us to purchase mini transmitters which were attached to 10 of the hatchlings just before release. Telemetry data and behavioral observations gathered from these animals will be compared to that of 10 wild-caught juveniles to measure possible impacts of headstarting as a conservation method.

Headstart Wood Turtle hatchling released with transmitter

In the summer of 2012,  Trailside staff and volunteer researchers released the fourth batch of recent graduates from the Turtle Headstarting Program.  The juvenile wood turtles were fitted with transmitters, enabling us to monitor them through the summer.