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We had a successful weekend. We were able to perform health checks on 10 more turtles! I was working closely with John Byrd of CRESO. He and his team find the turtles and collect morphometric data, and then present them to me for the health work-up. It’s a pretty amazing partnership, so I thought I would tell you a little about them:
CRESO, or the Clinch River Environmental Studies Organization was established in 1989 jointly by three institutions: the Anderson County, TN public school system, the Department of Energy, the Oak Ridge Schools, the Oak Ridge National Lab- Environmental Science Division, and the University of Tennessee Forest Resources Research & Education Center. John Byrd and Kathy Strunk are the teacher masterminds behind this project and they have been educating and collecting data since CRESO was established. I have had the pleasure to work closely with both of these people, and just in the past two days I have learned so much from them and their passion for education and conservation is astounding!
They coordinate and mentor a combination of high school and undergraduate students through field research and long-term data monitoring. For most of these students, it is their first exposure to working in the field. It is a really interesting experience and I have met some really great high school students who are very interested in my research. I am excited about the opportunity to teach and share my passion and experience with them as well.
In addition to box turtles, CRESO does long term data monitoring with aquatic turtles, salamanders, snakes, and birds, among many other projects. The goal of this organization is not only to have students exposed to science and scientific research but also to establish long-term data for many of these species for which many not much has been discovered. Furthermore, there are 6 box turtles that are fitted with GPS transmitters and two high schoolers volunteer their time, often 3-5 days a week to track and monitor the activity patterns of these turtles. When box turtles are collected, parameters such as carapace length, height, width, plastron length and height, habitat, temperature, wind speed, GPS coordinates, eye color, and annuli are recorded. All the turtles are also assigned a unique number so that all future encounters can be linked to that turtle. On Sunday, they reached 721, meaning they have taken data on 721 box turtles since 2006, which I find pretty impressive.
All in all I’ve had a lot of fun so far! Lots of turtles!
Here is a link to CRESO’s website if you would like to know more about them:
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Welcome to the Carapace Chronicles!
My name is Brittany Way and I just finished up my first year at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. This summer, a generous grant from the Morris Animal Foundation’s Veterinary Scholars Program and the support of my advisor Dr. Matt Allender, has allowed me to travel to Oak Ridge, Tennessee to study the health of a population of Eastern Box Turtles. This blog is intended to give you an insight into my work this summer and also into the importance of veterinary medicine in the conservation of species.
Reptiles, such as the Eastern Box Turtles, are extremely susceptible to environmental disturbance. Habitat fragmentation and destruction can lead to environmental stress that can weaken their immune systems. As part of my study I will be collecting blood from each of the turtles we find to try and get a feel for the health of not only the individual turtles but also the health of the entire population.
In further posts, I will describe the different places blood is drawn and what cells we look for the in the blood. Above, I am drawing blood from the subcarapacial sinus of this box turtle.
I will also be performing a physical exam on these turtles, looking for signs of disease such as watery eyes or diarrhea. I will also be looking for any external parasites such as ticks and collecting them for further analysis. Lastly, in the field I will be collecting oral swabs for further analyses to be run to determine if these turtles are infected with viruses that can prove to be detrimental to an entire population, such as Ranavirus.
Once in the lab, I will use the blood to determine a White Blood Cell Count, the percentages of different blood cells found in a blood sample (Complete Blood Count), plasma biochemistries (such as Sodium and Potassium), the packed cell volume, and Total solids present in the blood. These values can all be used as an indicator of the health of the turtles.
Stay tuned for more information on my summer research project!