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Wildlife Watch: Spiny soft shell turtle

Published: Sep. 15, 2020 at 4:57 PM EDT
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SWANTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The spiny softshell turtle is a native species to Vermont that’s listed as threatened by the state, but recent conservation efforts appear to have helped boost the population.

Just past the Sandy Point boat access in Swanton, visitors might see a few “turtle nesting” warning signs and electric fencing,

“This is our best nesting beach in the whole state for spiny softshell turtles,” said Toni Mikula, a Vermont Fish & Wildlife specialist helping conserve the threatened, tiny turtles.

“They have a flexible shell. It’s not hard and boney like a snapping turtle. And a silly little pointed nose,” explained Mikula. “Spiny softshell turtles have been here pretty much since the ice sheets receded at the end of the glaciers. They are a very ancient species and they have just been a part of the ecosystem for tens of thousands of years, and we are trying to make sure that humans are not responsible for them becoming extinct.”

Reporter Ike Bendavid: What caused them to be a threatened species in the state of Vermont

Toni Mikula: A large part of it was the predation of the eggs by predators, so our main egg predators are skunks, opossums, and mostly raccoons.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: What is the work you are doing with spiny softshell turtles?

Toni Mikula: Every summer, the adult female spiny softshell turtles come here to nest. They lay their eggs and we try to make sure that those eggs hatch, so we have fencing all around to keep predators out. On the beach, we have wire mesh laid out on the shale that discourages digging, so we try to keep predators away so those eggs have a chance to hatch.

In Vermont, the turtles are only found in Lake Champlain. Near the shore in Swanton is where the state has protected the land to help the nesting turtles and electric fencing surrounds the beach from humans and predators.

“This kind of pebbly shale is what they love to nest in. So we lay this wire mesh on top of the shale after the nesting season to make it harder for nest predators to dig up the nest and eat the eggs,” Mikula said.

Mikula comes out to the location a few times a week and looks for nests where eggs have hatched She says when the turtles hatch, their natural instinct is to head towards the water, where they will spend the rest of their lives.

“I’m excavating this nest. I’m going to dig out all the eggshells so that we know how many eggs were laid and how many hatchlings successfully got out and made their way to the lake. Sometimes I might find an unhatched egg or a young turtle that is still in here and isn’t quite ready to come out yet, and if I do that, I will take him into captivity for a couple days until they are ready to be released,” Mikula said.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: Is the work you are doing, is that helping the population?

Toni Mikula: It does appear to be working. We don’t have a way to keep tabs on the number of adults on the lake, but we do know that pretty consistently since the restoration efforts began, we are seeing more nests laid every year and more live hatchlings coming out of the nest and making it to the water.

Encouraging efforts to keep this ancient species alive in the lake for years to come.

Related Stories:

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Tiny endangered turtles released into Vermont’s wild

Wildlife Watch: Protecting the tiny spiny softshell turtle

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Wildlife Watch: Tiny turtles get a head start

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