Mac researchers keeping tabs on ‘Spray Tan’ the snapping turtle

Mac researchers keeping tabs on ‘Spray Tan’ the snapping turtle

the snapping turtle

Morgan Piczak struggles to carry all 28 pounds of No. 4 through the m arsh while wearing rubber chest waders for his 15 minutes of fame.

The McMaster University student located him using the directional antenna her friend Leigh Licursi is carrying in the vastness of West Pond along Cootes Drive near Dundas.

He is one of 13 snapping turtles McMaster researchers will study using two radio transmitters to their shells to follow their movements.

Three others are living in the area where No. 4, affectionately named Spray Tan for the orange tint of his skin, was found as he emerged from winter hibernation.

One radio transmitter helps locate them. The other is picked up by receivers on two culverts leading from the Royal Botanical Gardens’ West Pond to Spencer Creek.

It allows researchers to see if the turtles are using the culverts or are making the glacial march across Cootes Drive.

The Cootes Paradise marsh is home to one of Ontario’s largest snapping turtle populations.

The turtles have been studied since the mid-80s. The last population study was early in the 2000s.

Overall, the province’s numbers are in decline. Locally, the turtles are threatened by vehicular traffic near their habitat.

The local researchers are looking at the turtles’ habitat, nesting habits and where they winter over.

Piczak, who’s doing her master’s degree in biology, hopes the studies will show whether the snapping turtle population is on the rise or static.

Snapping turtles get their name from the way they lash their heads out to defend themselves. Unlike other turtles, they’re too large to fit inside their shells for defence.

A single female turtle can lay 1,400 eggs in her life time so a single death can have a significant impact.

Dundas Turtle Watch, the Hamilton Conservation Authority and the RBG are working to protect the population against fatalities by using the McMaster research.

The project could result in the protection of the turtles’ habitat from further alteration or even see a restoration effort.