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Hello everyone! We have had a great week so far, I collected blood from turtle number 200 today. It’s been a good time, very long hikes and hot weather! I have found some better ways to get a turtle to say “AH!”. The CRESO kids have been so helpful, with taking oral swabs and also with helping me with lab work. My time spent analyzing blood samples has been lessened by all the kids and I have been able to spend more time analyzing my CBCs.
Speaking of CBCs, I thought I would give you guys a little idea about what cells I am looking for in the blood smear and what their function is in the blood.
First, the monocyte. Monocytes are the largest white blood cells in the blood. The cytoplasm of a monocyte stains dark blue-gray and the nucleus is pink. They are circulating macrophages and move to sights of infection to eat bacteria and fungi.
Second, the heterophil. Heterophils are pink cells that have a dark pink nucleus and a lighter pink cytoplasm. The nucleus is off-center and usually sits on the edge of the cell. They are the first line of defense against bacterial infections.
Third, the eosinophil. Eosinophils are large round cells with spherical granules that are pink in color. They resemble heterophils but the cytoplasm is filled with granules. They function in fighting parasites and in allergic reactions.
Fourth, the basophil. Basophils are round cells that contain very dense, dark purple granules that often obscure the nucleus. They resemble azurophils, the fifth blood cell, however, the nucleus in azurophils is always present and there are few granules in cytoplasm.
**I apologize for the poor quality of the pictures, they were taken through my microscope!**
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The processing of turtles is harder than it sounds! Here is an idea of a typical turtle find from beginning to end. As you know we have these spectacular dogs that do all the hard work for us. As they find them, tape is first placed around the shell and each turtle is given a temporary ID, we use the generic ABCs.
We have runner “books” that are then filled out with the microhabitat, such as under leaves, in log jam, etc, the dog that caught it, time it was caught, temporary ID, and GPS coordinates.
For each turtle we take length, width, and height measurements.
We also count the annuli, the rings on the scutes of the turtle to tell their age much like the rings of a tree, and determine whether they are smooth, somewhat smooth, or well defined. Generally as the turtle gets older the annuli will become more smooth. After 20 years of age it is really hard to determine the age of the turtle because the shell is almost completely smooth.
We also record the weight and hopefully if we see the turtle we can get a look at the eye color. As you’ve read before, eye color can be a determinant of sex. But not that often.
After the turtle is done being processed, I take blood, get an oral swab, and hopefully do a physical exam.
Once all the turtles have been processed, they are placed back at their GPS location where they were found.
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Pardon my absence! I’ve had a busy few weeks writing my abstract and doing blood work. It’s been tedious but I’m getting the hang of the different types of white-blood cells. Beginning on Monday, the turtle-tracking dogs will be back and we will be in the field for 8 days trying to catch as many turtles as possible! I want to tell you a little bit about these guys because they are very, very talented and fantastic to watch.
John Rucker is the master of these turtle-tracking Boykin Spaniels. There are anywhere from 4-8 dogs that track at any given time. The A-team is made up of Jinny-wren, J-Byrd, Snapper, Sparky, and Gretta. The B-team of Rose, Mink, and Rooster. Sparky is the oldest living turtle dog on the team and is a legend in his field. We have gotten to know each other pretty well as it’s been so hot and he has hung out with me. Jinny-wren is the current #1 turtle dog on the A-team. There is a new batch of puppies that are just beginning their training to carry on the turtle legacy.
We start out early in the morning to minimize the Southern heat. First, the high-schoolers participating in the project will douse all the dogs in water to cool them down before the team sets off.
We follow them all over our study site as they run, nose to ground, sniffing for the scent of the box turtle. When it hasn’t rained in a long time it is harder for the dogs to track the turtles because they hunker down in the leaves and don’t move. We are in that right now, it hasn’t rained in a long time but the dogs still manage to pull 10-15 turtles out of the site in a hour.
Once a turtle is found, whether it be by a log or under leaves, the turtle is removed from them and John and the lucky dog celebrate together. It is so neat to watch, both John and the dog get very excited and you can tell they are both pleased.
Watching these dogs is something special. Hopefully when we go out into the field next week I will be able to get a video of them in action to post on here so you guys can see. Without them, human searches average roughly 0.8 turtles an hour. This summer we have been averaging roughly 8 turtles an hour. The difference is extraordinary! I thank these dogs everyday for what they do and the fact that they have provided me with a fantastic number of turtles!