W.Va. launches citizen science project to document box turtles

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W.Va. launches citizen science project to document box turtles
An eastern box turtle traverses a lawn in West Virginia. (Photo courtesy W.Va. Dept. of Commerce)

The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources has launched a citizen science project to track the distribution of eastern box turtles and is asking the public to report sightings of the important but declining reptile.

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Reporting box turtle sightings can be done by using geographic coordinates on the division's map at .

Submitting a photo of the turtle is encouraged. People can also use the Survey 123 mobile app to provide the same information and upload photos.

“Box turtles are declining range-wide and understanding their current distribution is critical to taking effective conservation action,” said Kevin Oxenrider, the amphibian and reptile program leader for the division.

“So, we're interested in all observations, whether the turtle is dead or alive. This includes turtles encountered around your home, on the road, and along hiking trails."

The decline in box turtle populations is linked to habitat fragmentation, emerging disease, road mortality, and illegal collection. Popularity as pets and attractive shell patterning make box turtles a target of poachers.

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Road mortality is a problem in the spring and fall when they’re on the move.

“We ask that if you see a box turtle or any turtle on the road, make sure you are in a safe location and are not blocking traffic before you do anything to help," said Oxenrider. "If you do stop and help a turtle, gently lift the turtle on either side of the shell and move it to the side of the road in the direction the turtle was facing.”

Taking a box turtle with you to release in a different location, such as a farm or other property, is not only illegal but can be dangerous to other box turtles. Oxenrider said moving animals often spreads wildlife disease.

Information gained from this project will allow the division to better manage box turtle populations and focus conservation and outreach efforts.

Contact information of survey participants and locations of box turtles will not be shared publicly in order to protect people’s privacy and box turtles around the state.

For more information about box turtles and other wildlife, visit .

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A turtle eyes a cluster of strawberries.

Thirteen species of turtle live in West Virginia, though the best-known species may be the eastern box turtle, which will be on the move this spring. The turtles are a familiar sight in backyards and along hiking trails—and on country roads, where motorists are often at a loss as to how to manage the situation. Here's how, say biologists.

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