Tallying turtles: a unique opportunity

JJC has unique natural areas on campus including the notorious lake under the bridge on Main Campus.
Because of the proximity that classes have to these outdoor “learning labs,” many faculty, especially in the natural sciences department, take advantage of the environment to bring enriching learning experiences to students.
On Thursday, April 13, Professor Carrie Zelman and her students from General Biology II conducted a turtle tally at JJC’s lake. This tally is conducted in conjunction with the population ecology unit in the course as it helps students learn about how population sizes are established through a mark and recapture study.
“JJC is unique in having natural areas where we can do student labs and research right outside our door,” Zelman said. “I think that’s really special here.”
“Students learn so much from actually doing things outside of the regular classroom. I love seeing students get involved and take charge in ways that you don’t see in the classroom.”
In January 2023, Zelman applied for a research permit with the Department of Natural Resources and ordered equipment like the traps through JJC’s Award for Innovation and Excellence Grant.
Turtles come out of hibernation when the temperature is warm; to get the most accurate count and mark as many turtles as possible, the class waits until a warm spell to set up traps.
Once the traps are set up, they wait two days, and then check them for turtles. Turtles are then measured and marked with unique IDs based on their shell’s unique notched pattern. Then, they are released back into the lake and surrounding natural area.
This year, nine snapping turtles and three painted turtles were measured and released. The turtle tally generally occurs twice a year, but this was one of the more successful viewings since COVID and the poor weather last spring.
“[Students] are always going to remember this type of experience,” Zelman said. “The chance to see these animals up close while we don’t normally encounter them… these really beautiful creatures that we don’t really notice because we don’t get to see them up close” is special.
“A lot of us don’t realize what sort of nature is right around us that we don’t get to see everyday, and I think that these surveys can help us with conserving turtles,” Zelman said. “When we become more aware of what’s in our own backyard, we care about it more.”