Turtle Research at Wildwood Park

Turtle Research at Wildwood Park

One of the highlights of a walk along Wildwood Park's Towpath Trail is seeing turtles sunning on logs in the canal. In the history of Wildwood, there has been no record of a scientific estimate of the turtle population.

In 2011, several organizations began to collaborate on turtle research at the park.

Three scientists spearheaded the project:

Professor Gene Wingert, Dickinson College, also a Friends of Wildwood Board Member

Dr. Scott Boback, Dickinson College

Dr. Walter Meshaka, Senior Curator of Zoology at the PA State Museum and Friends of Wildwood Board Member.

How Turtles Were Caught and Tagged

Dickinson College set turtle nets in Wildwood's canal.

For several weeks in spring and fall, professors brought students to Wildwood to teach them to bait and set traps. Each trap has 3 rings the size of hula hoops that are connected with netting. One end is an open funnel so turtles can swim in, but not out. Although the turtles are aquatic, they breathe through lungs, so the nets are partly submerged, leaving space for them to come up for air.

The traps were checked daily. Turtles were caught are measured and marked with notches in the shell. A PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tag was inserted into the turtle. Each tag had a unique number, like a social security number, that can be read with an electronic wand.

All turtles were released back into the canal.

Inserting a PIT tag    |    Reading a PIT tag    |    Measuring the carapace

Data collected are used to monitor the growth of individual turtles.

By comparing the number of re-captures to new captures, the researchers can calculate an estimate of the turtle population at Wildwood Park.

Turtle Species at Wildwood Park

Most of the turtles captured in the research project were Eastern Painted Turtles.

They can often be seen sunning on logs in the canal.

Snapping Turtles can be challenging to handle when caught.

They live in the lake and the canal. Females come out of the water to lay eggs in May.

Some Stinkpots were caught the first year of the study.

These aquatic turtles aren�t often seen.

Box Turtles are mainly terrestrial. They live in the forested areas surrounding the smaller creeks.

Wood Turtles are found in streams and in the forests surrounding them.

Red-eared Sliders are not native to Pennsylvania, but many are found in Wildwood Park. When purchased at a pet store, they are a little larger than a quarter, but they grow rapidly.

Thinking they are doing the right thing, people release their overgrown pets into the wild. Red-eared Sliders are more aggressive than some of the native turtles and they reproduce rapidly in the wild. The result is that native turtles are crowded out of the habitat they need to survive.

Spread the word - Never release pet turtles into the wild.
Never take a wild turtle as a pet.

Exotic Turtles in Wildwood Park

Educational Benefits of the Study

   Student research

In addition to being an important research study, the turtle project provides educational opportunities for many people.


If you supported this research, you can see if your turtle was recaptured download recapture data.