Why on Earth would you ever want to catch a Spotted Turtle? Well, for one, the Spotted Turtle is a petite, curious looking reptile assorted yellow polka-dots. I should preface this by saying the Spotted Turtle is declining in numbers throughout its range in the Northeast United States, so unless you are a wildlife biologist monitoring the species (like yours truly), you should only ever catch them for curiosity, a quick moment of awe and promptly release them in the same spot.
As a wildlife biologist who studies reptiles and amphibians (aka: a herpetologist – literally meaning creepy things), my job encompasses monitoring the small, declining population of Spotted Turtles in Washington, D.C. But for the first two years of on the job, I had only the occasional glimpse of one or two. To remedy this position, I positioned turtle hoop nets that I had used to monitor other turtle species throughout the wetland in hopes of finding them. Simple, right? Not so much.
Issue #1 – Baiting the trap
Apparently (according to my cohorts in the field) this is a big no-no. A technique commonly practiced for catching other omnivorous turtle species, but not for the Spotted Turtle. What this method actually does? It attracts everyone else in town. Too many turtles! And so many larger Snapping Turtles to boot, thus deterring the quaint Spotted Turtle from even coming near the net.
Issue #2 – Water-dwelling mammals
The culprit? I cannot say for sure – beaver, mink, otter or muskrat – but all the same, bad news bears all the same. My lavish nets were reduced to nothing more than twine draped gapingly on pathetic hoops.
Fortunately, I find myself quite at home wading through a wetland and find myself spending incalculable hours atop on a log observing and stalking turtles. I identified the areas the spotted turtles lingered, where they basked but still somehow needed to catch them. At the end of one of my trailing sessions, I viewed through my polarized sunglasses a tiny turtle sunning himself in the shallow water. After a brief moment of hesitation, I plunged my hand into the water and clutched him! Eureka!
Now, having attended graduate school in Eastern Kentucky, I recalled cautionary tales surrounding the technique I just employed – noodling. While commonly used to catch catfish hiding under the banks of streams, I just proved this practice works on catching turtles as well. However, spearing one’s hand in murky waters does not always yield success. On the contrary, warnings of cloudy water beginning to bleed followed by shrieks of horror and agony remained fixed in my memories. Score for the colossal Snapping Turtles!
Returning to Issue #1, you realize I should discern better than to practice this method to catch a Spotted Turtle. I SHOULD know better. But the victory in obtaining and tagging over eight turtles in a season triumphs over reason. But mark my word; should my hand graze an object of alarm, it retracts hastily, accompanied by a girlish squeak.