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Turtle census part 3: guest blog by Susan Summers

 The third and final session of our turtle trapping program was full of wonderful information and more turtles!
We began our morning visiting Linda Addison, the Museum’s vet tech who told us much about caring for injured turtles.  She showed us examples of the types of injuries that turtles can have and what veterinarians do to heal them.  For example, some turtles will eat items that can cause blockages in their internal organs, other turtles may have been hit by cars or other objects which can fracture their shells, and some turtles, those that have been taken from the wild as pets, often have complications from poor nutrition.  Each turtle is an individual case, and while surgery may be an option for some, it may not for others.  Repositioning the shell to help a turtle heal may be the best and easiest solution for some, yet for others giving them a liquid that can help them pass any indigestible matter might be the answer, and often it may not be possible to do anything at all.  We were fortunate to meet several different types of turtles during our visit with Linda; a box turtle, a painted turtle, a red footed tortoise as well as African spur footed tortoises.  We learned quite a bit about turtle care!
A painted turtle with an injury
After visiting Linda, we headed to the lake to check our traps.  We were in luck!  We collected 5 turtles, one of which was a snapping turtle and was immediately released (after some work disentangling the fellow from the net).  We captured and released 2 northern red-bellied cooters, 1 red eared slider and 1 intergraded turtle (which had an injury to its beak).  Students assisted with all aspects of data collection, and then released the animals safely back into the lake.  
A turtle with a damaged beak
Our team, processing turtles
Alisa getting ready to release a turtle
Releasing the turtles
We finished our morning with a visit from Chris Crippen, our Aquarium Curator who talked to us about sea turtles and how the Museum cares for them.  We have had several loggerhead sea turtles in our care over the years, and Chris and his staff have learned quite a lot about what it takes to keep these animals healthy and happy.
Showing the size of a sea turtle shell
 Did you know that there are 5 different species of sea turtles that can be found off the coast of Virginia (some are more prevalent than others).  These are the loggerhead, the Kemp’s ridley, the green, the leatherback and the hawksbill.  The Museum cares for a loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta).  We discovered that there is a large variety of fish that our turtle is fed daily, that sea turtles need their vitamins just like people do, and that people can have large impacts on turtles – pick up your trash!  Sea turtles are not so very smart and often confuse our trash for food items.  This can have serious consequences for them. 
We asked our participants what they wanted other kids their age to know about turtles and this project, here is what they said:  
“It was fun, but you always have to be gentle.”
“Don’t take turtles from the wild, because they will die in captivity.”
“Turtles are not smart and are hard to take care of.”
 “If you are interested in a career in herpetology you will need to get a degree – a bachelor’s and a master’s, and often it is a good idea to volunteer in places that have herps, like the Virginia Living Museum.”
“The turtle census is very fun even though you don’t catch very many turtles.”
“Turtles are cool to work with but they are stinky and messy!”
“Turtles eat trash that looks like food, which can kill them. Some people need to know that by littering, they are killing animals.”
I want to thank our participants (who were extremely helpful and wonderful to work with) and our volunteer Larry for spending their Saturday mornings with us.  The staff enjoyed our experience and we are looking forward to doing all again next year.

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