Eastern Box Turtle
High Elevation Study
A Relic Population Doomed To Extinction?
M5 Refind 2015
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This middle aged male, M5, was originally found while crossing the road 6/11/09 and tracked into and out of hibernation until August 30, 2012 when he was lost, probably due to transmitter failure.  He was never observed mating during the 4 years he was tracked, but traveled close to several females during this time.

He was seen by a local resident on their brick patio in 2014 and was re-found in September 2015, 3 years after being lost, about a mile (see map) from the location were he was lost.   A local couple found him crossing a well-traveled gravel road going south to north, with one transmitter attached. (the thin green lines on the photo are roads and boundaries). .

What descriptive class does this put M5 in?  Is he a local population resident with a very large home range, or a resident with 2 (or more) primary activity areas, a transient that spent several years within a local population before moving on, or a transient that moves among several separate local populations?

If M5 is a true transient, it would be expected that he would have traveled more than a mile distant in three years.  If he continues to travel north, he has a high ridge to climb, but that would put him into the hollow where several of my tagged turtles regularly travel, and the same hollow he traveled before crossing the ridge and being lost.


What's to be learned from this turtle's re-find?  Firstly, transmitters need to be kept working, and tracking needs to be often enough so individuals don't travel out of radio range, at least not without first giving an indication of travel direction.  Attaching a thread trailing container to far-traveling turtles helps with this.

Secondly, since study turtles can be lost at any time and unexpectedly found again, they need to have contact information attached, and better yet, especially for far traveling turtles (transients), information about the turtle, the research study, and if-found instructions (a contact request).
Turtles M8 and M9 show off their 23 mm x 13 mm labels while mating.   The message is fused onto "plastic paper" using a laser printer and covered with clear packaging tape.

Attached to their plastron and a marginal scute with a drop of super glue, they stay in place for at least a couple of years before falling off.  One or 2 is also placed loose inside each transmitter container.  If anyone finds a turtle, they can flip the lid and take the contact info, and if a detached transmitter is ever found, maybe it will be returned.

Box turtles don't drag their plastrons while walking, so these labels are still in good shape as long as the glue holds.

Warning:  My experience is that many people finding a Box turtle in the wild, will not handle it or turn it over to find the plastron label.  A second label glued onto the carapace may have some luck at attracting attention and communicating the desired information.

Superglue cures using moisture, so swabbing the area with rubbing alcohol or water and wiping clean leaves the right amount of moisture to then firmly attach the label.

A label is held by the edges and a drop or two of superglue is spread on the bottom to cover the label completely, then the label is carefully placed on the turtle and is firmly pressed in place for 10 or 15 seconds using your thumb.  So far, I have not had any trouble peeling off my thumb without loosing any skin.

Superglue (4 tubes for $1 at Walmart) is exactly the same as surgical glue used in place of sutures and is harmless for topical use, to humans and animals. 
For turtles that I suspect may be going on very long walks (transients), I have begun adding a message in a bottle.

These 1 ml plastic, screw-top centrifuge vials carry a long, rolled-up, laser printed streamer with contact information, study location info, and turtle care info in case the turtle is found in the future.  Instructions to contact me and hold the turtle is requested.

Mounted far to the rear on a marginal scute using epoxy, these could stay attached to a transient for many years.  With a bit of luck and some cooperative finders, useful new information on transient travels might be collected.
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A laser printer is important for message banner and label making.  A laser printer fuses the waterproof toner onto the medium which stays fused under even the hottest summer temperatures. (a photo copying machine works the same way).  An inkjet printer will not work because the printing quickly fades in the sun and runs and bleeds with any moisture.

The media for making labels is called sheet PVC.  It will feed through a laser printer if cut to 8 1/2 x 11 size or if smaller pieces are taped to a sheet of copy paper.  I don't know of a purchase source.....I salvage mine from flat-screen tv's and monitors.

The media for the vial messages is called "tearproof paper".  It's not paper: it's vellum-like sheets, and feeds through a laser printer with no problems.  The fused printing is permanent and it can be bent or rolled without the letters peeling.  It can be purchased at office stores and can be used in laser printers and photo-copy machines.
The best way to make labels is to use a graphics program, like Paint Shop Pro, and design one label and save as a JPEG.  I use one extra step that makes things a bit easier.  I use Word to make the text (using a big font),  save as a PDF and copy/paste the graphic into PSP. Then I can modify and save as a jpg or bmp.

The sheet of labels is made in Word by importing the JPEG graphic, resize very small, and then using copy/paste, make rows to fill the entire sheet.  It may take some practice on cheap paper to decide on the desired final label size.

The labels are covered with clear packaging tape which is rolled smooth, before being cut into individual labels.
The message banners for the vials can be designed and printed directly from Word.  Using tear proof paper, the message can be printed in "landscape" mode, because this size vial will easily hold an entire 11 x 1 1/4" printed and rolled strip.

That's a lot of verbiage, especially if a small font is used and it's printed on both sides.  Graphics can also be included,  if desired, because Word can import them into the text.
Epoxy doesn't adhere to plastic very well for very long, so some minor preparation is necessary.

A wire is secured at a couple of places around the plastic vial, and embedded in the epoxy on the carapace.  When the epoxy becomes detached from the plastic, the wire will still hold the vial as long as the epoxy stays attached to the scute.  Cleaning the scute with alcohol removes dirt and oils and extends the time the epoxy stays attached.
The smaller centrifuge vials in his photo are 1/2 ml plastic and are able to hold a 14 mm x 20 mm rolled strip of tearproof paper.

Using a small font and printing on both sides, that can be a lot of verbiage.  The top is friction fit, so may need a drop of glue to assure they don't open under daily movement.

Also, cut off the finger tab (not the hinge) so it doesn't catch on brush and open.
After being lost for 3 years
M17 "Superturtle"

(additional observations about transients are posted at this link)
(Transient identification and mistaken ID info is at this link)
 
 
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