Its radio transmitter visible, a painted turtle swims in the pond at Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo.
It has been more than two years since Urban Wildlife Institute biologists introduced painted turtles equipped with radio transmitters to the pond at Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo. Since then, we’ve been tracking the movements of these individuals as well as a few snapping turtles that we’ve gotten the opportunity to transmitter.
To date, more than 1,200 locations have been collected on the turtles at Nature Boardwalk! These data can be used to generate a map that illustrates where each turtle tends to spend most of its time.
This map shows that painted turtles tend to spend most of their time in the south section of the pond, around the island. Some of these turtles stick to the southeast corner while others have much larger ranges that span the width of the pond. Interestingly, all the painted turtles we have tracked use the installed basking sites around the island or the tree snag placed in the southwest corner.
Locations and home range boundaries of seven painted turtles and one snapping turtle at Nature Boardwalk at the Lincoln Park Zoo.
These basking site locations were chosen to encourage turtles not to bask at the edge of the pond, which is typically where turtles are more susceptible to predators. The additional benefit is that we now know the locations where turtles like to bask, making it very easy for education programs to show turtles at Nature Boardwalk!
The painted turtles are a major success at Nature Boardwalk, but they don’t tell the whole story. We’ve found that snapping turtles behave very differently than other turtle species at the site. One individual stays primarily in the north of the pond, by Café Brauer. This is because snapping turtles don’t bask on rocks or logs but instead float near the surface of the water when they need to regulate their body temperature. Also, the sediment in this part of the pond is very silty, which makes it easier for this species to dig and camouflage itself to ambush prey. Visitors and staff have also made visual observations of snapping turtles throughout the rest of the pond, but in lower numbers than painted turtles.
A snapping turtle with its transmitter on shore.
In the future we hope to further our work by tracking red-eared sliders and map turtles at Nature Boardwalk to see if these species interact with the environment differently. By continually tracking turtle species, we can link their use of certain areas to factors such as pond depth, water quality or basking sites. These data can be used by other institutions doing restoration work in wetlands or lakes to create habitats for successful turtle populations.
Nature Boardwalk functions as a living laboratory where the zoo’s Urban Wildlife Institute can test our methods for implementing studies throughout the greater Chicagoland area. What makes this space so unique, and so valuable, is that even though it sits in the heart of an incredibly urban area, it has astonishing wildlife diversity.
Mason Fidino is coordinator of wildlife management for Lincoln Park Zoo's Urban Wildlife Institute.
How Do Scientists Track Painted Turtles?
This Lincoln Park Zoo magazine interactive takes you along with Urban Wildlife Institute researchers as they track painted turtles at Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo.