Herp Update: Current Herp Activity, Fundraiser, Eastern Musk Turtle – January 28, 2023

Herp Update: Current Herp Activity, Fundraiser, Eastern Musk Turtle – January 28, 2023

Current Herp Activity

Now that more seasonal weather has finally arrived, reports have slowed to a trickle.  Just last week though we did have a report of a Common Gartersnake moving (slowly) underwater in a small stream.  We have received three winter reports of Common Gartersnakes apparently trying to overwinter underwater, though I am not sure this was by choice on the part of the snake.  Perhaps they were flooded out of a previously dry hibernaculum or for some reason took refuge in ground water hoping that it would keep them from freezing.  One was found by some cross country skiers a few years ago in an active natural groundwater spring.  The groundwater would keep the snake from freezing but the snake was regularly coming to the surface to take breaths of air.  Of two that were seen in the bottom of a well in Hinesburg, one was already dead and it is assumed the second one also died.

Spotted Salamander was also reported last week moving over the snow.   This sort of report is usually the result of some sort of disturbance.  Perhaps flooding, construction, or a predator disturbed the salamander from its winter hiding spot.

Our Annual Fundraiser Continues

We kicked off our annual Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas fundraiser just before Christmas.  I expect to run it through February and then take down the GoFundMe site, though we certainly accept donations through other means at any time of the year.  Your contributions make up the largest portion of our annual budget.  The rest comes from grants and cost-share agreements.  We have raised about 1/2 of our goal but still have a long way to go.  Please do consider making a donation if you have not already done so.  For more information visit: https://www.vtherpatlas.org/support-and-funding/annual-fundraiser/ 

Donations can be made in a variety of ways:

  • Through our GoFundMe site (they take 2.9 percent of the payment plus 30 cents per transaction)
  • By using the PayPal link on our website (they take 2.9 percent of the payment plus 30 cents per transaction)
  • By writing a check made out to James S. Andrews (no overhead is lost but it is not tax deductible). Send the check to: The Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas, 642 Smead Road, Salisbury, VT 05769
  • If you would prefer, or if your fund requires that your donation be made to a 501c3 not-for profit you can write a check made out to Vermont Family Forests (VFF).   VFF is our fiscal sponsor and they are a registered 501(c)3 non-profit (they do take 15% for overhead costs).
    • If you write a check to VFF we prefer that you still address it to: The Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas, 642 Smead Road, Salisbury, VT 05769.
    • However, if your fund requires that the check be sent directly to Vermont Family Forests, make sure to make it clear that the donation is for the Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas and send the donation to: Vermont Family Forests, David Brynn, Executive Director, P.O. Box 25, 14 School Street, Suite 202A, Bristol, VT 05443

Eastern Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) in Vermont

The Eastern Musk Turtle (photos below) is a small (~4-inch shell length) oval, smooth-shelled turtle with two white stripes on the sides of its head.  It is sometimes confused with a small Snapping Turtle but a small Snapping Turtle has no stripes of any kind, would have three keels running the length of its shell, and snapping turtles have jagged teeth on the rear end of their carapace (back shell).

In Vermont, the Eastern Musk Turtle has only been reported in the Lake Champlain Basin from Georgia south.  Niquette Bay in Lake Champlain supports what appears to be a healthy population but as you head south along the lake they remain unreported until you get to the mouth of Otter Creek in Ferrisburgh.  Continuing south they disappear again until you get well south of the Lake Champlain Bridge in Shoreham.  Interestingly, populations exist in the lakes of the Poultney River drainage (Bomoseen, Hortonia, Sunrise, and Sunset) but that is it for Vermont.

Dean Barnes sent in a photo report of an Eastern Musk Turtle from South Hero in August of this year.  It is only the second report of this species from Grand Isle County and the first from South Hero.  We have one reliable report from 2011 in Franklin County (Georgia).  Given the easy travel corridor of Lake Champlain and the many shallow bays in the north east corner of Lake Champlain, it is surprising that this species has not been reported more often from either Grand Isle or Franklin Counties.  Perhaps it is limited by nesting habitat or egg-incubation times.  If it is incubation time, it may well move further north with climate change. Please do take a photo and send us a report if you think you might have seen this species.

Eastern Musk Turtle in a hand. Photo by Adrienne Fortune and used with permission.Eastern Musk Turtle on ground near a person's foot. Photo by Steve Lesan and used with permission.

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