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Auteur Topic: Ornate box turtle numbers seem to decline  (gelezen 2208 keer)
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« Gepost op: 27 September 2009, 10:11:00 »

Ornate box turtle numbers seem to decline
By Shar Porier
Published: Tuesday, September 15, 2009 2:15 AM MST
BISBEE — Southeastern Arizona may have another Chelonia species (reptiles that carry their homes on their backs) that is in decline — the ornate box turtle.

Bedankt John J. Ritchey

Audrey Owens, a wildlife specialist with Arizona Game and Fish, wants to make the public aware that these turtles are not to be collected and are protected like their cousins the Sonoran Desert Tortoise.

“Ornate box turtles were once described as a common species in Southeastern Arizona’s grasslands. In recent years, encounters with ornate box turtles are becoming more and more infrequent,” said Owens. “Although we have no estimate of the number of box turtles in Southeastern Arizona, recently researchers and box turtle enthusiasts have noticed that they appear to be in decline.”

About the turtles

Male box turtles can be distinguished from female box turtles because males have red eyes and orange coloration on their forelimbs. Female box turtles have brown or yellow eyes and yellow coloration on their forelimbs. Female box turtles lay on average three eggs per clutch in nest dug in sandy soil. After she lays them, she covers them up with soil, and the hatchlings emerge about three months later. The female does not stay by the nest once she is done laying the eggs, said Owens. The hatchings are dark-colored with a yellow line down the center of the shell.

They generally hang out near waterways, but can also be found in semi-desert grasslands, Sonoran desert scrub and Madrean evergreen woodland in altitudes up to 7,100 feet. They eat some insects and lots of vegetation, even cactus pads.

The state officially prohibited possession or the harvesting of box turtles in Arizona in 2005. It is not on an threatened or endangered list, yet.

“They were historically common in the Santa Cruz River valley, but have apparently disappeared from the area in the past century, as they have not been found there during recent surveys,” added Owens. “Their stronghold in Arizona appears to be the San Pedro River valley, where they are still being found with some regularity.”

Why they are in decline

Ornate box turtles are victims of habitat destruction through development and road building. It’s hard to resist a sunbath on those warm asphalt roads after a rain and that puts them at risk to motorists.

“In fact, box turtle populations are negatively affected by busy, paved roads, possibly because of high rates of mortality,” added Owens.

Then there are the folks who see a turtle and give it a lift home for a life as the family pet. That, too, has added to the decline in numbers.

So, how does Game and Fish determine that a population is in decline? It’s not easy. Finding them can be difficult because they spend most of their time in underground burrows. When the monsoon comes, they get more active and can be seen more frequently as the humidity rises. Most often they are seen from mid-July through September.

“We survey them by intensively searching in areas of known habitat (semi-desert grassland is their preferred habitat), which allows us to get a general idea if they are present in an area,” she explained. “We walk a series of 500 meter lines, searching for them along within 50 meters on either side of the line. This method allows us to estimate the number of turtles within the surveyed area.”

Ornate Box Turtle Watch

However, since weather conditions can vary and wildlife staff may or may not see any turtles on a given day, Game and Fish started the Ornate Box Turtle Watch program, a citizen scientist project. Individuals who live, work or conduct wildlife activities in Southeastern Arizona’s grasslands are being asked to let Game and Fish know when they encounter box turtles.

“Each time you encounter a box turtle, fill out and mail us a box turtle observation form (they can be found on the state Web site), along with photos of the individual,” said Owens. “Remember that it is illegal to handle wild box turtles, so participating in this program does not allow or require you to handle any turtles. We hope that with enough participation, we will be able to monitor where the species is still common and what types of habitat it is being found in, which will help us determine and address threats to their populations.”

The “don’t touch” rule includes collecting box turtles for the annual Willcox turtle race. Though Game and Fish hasn’t been in touch with city officials about the no-contact rule, some people may have had their turtles as pets prior to the 2005 ruling. Those turtles are allowed to compete.

“If you find a box turtle, the only situation in which you may handle it is if it is crossing the road, in which case you can (gently) move it across the road, facing the same direction it was heading,” she warned. “Please do not relocate it to another area. Reptiles have a strong homing instinct, and will likely try to get back to where it came from, possibly encountering many roads along the way. You will be doing no favors to that turtle.”


 It is illegal to remove a box turtle from the wild in Arizona.


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