The Aquatic Turtles Project

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The Aquatic Turtles Project

IntroductionLearning ObjectivesParticipant Safety in the FieldAnimal Handling Guidelines & Animal CareBackground for InstructorsList of MaterialsProject DescriptionData CollectionData ReportingTeaching PointsResourcesEspecially for TeachersFunding AcknowledgementTranscripts of VideosAppendix 1. Making Styrofoam Turtle ShellsAppendix 2. Sample HERP Project Data SheetDownload the Aquatic Turtles Curriculum

Written by:

Terry Tomasek, Catherine Matthews, and Douglas Lawton

Before starting a project similar to the one described in this curriculum, contact your state wildlife resources commission or state division of fish and game to see what kinds of permits you need to work with animals.

This is a description of how leaders of formal or informal outdoor learning experiences can teach learners about semi-aquatic turtles utilizing turtle trapping. Methods about how to record and submit site and turtle data to The HERP Project are also provided. Learners begin with the inquiry question, “What semi-aquatic turtles are found in this body of water?” From this starting point, learners may develop other questions, for example, “What parts of the body of water do turtles prefer?”, “What types of bait work best?”, or “What is the effect of camouflage on trapping efficiency?” Traps called hoop traps are baited and set in bodies of water such as lakes, ponds or rivers. Within 24 hours, traps are checked, turtles removed, data are collected and then animals are released at point of capture. This curriculum provides a description of how to teach learners about local semi-aquatic turtle populations and the scientific procedures and ways of thinking associated with a biological inventory. Before beginning any turtle trapping project, first check with your state wildlife commission about regulations related to turtles.


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Learning Objectives

After completing this project, learners will be able to:

  1. List and describe several local species of semi-aquatic turtles (e.g. yellow belly sliders, painted turtles, musk, mud, and snapping turtles)
  2. Explain the environmental pressures on local and global turtle populations
  3. Conduct biological inventories of semi-aquatic turtles using tools and equipment appropriate to the study and reporting data to a reliable and dedicated site
Participant Safety in the Field

While doing fieldwork in North Carolina, participants may encounter insects and other arthropods including chiggers, yellow jackets, ticks and spiders. Using insect repellant (but not on your hands if you plan to collect herps) and wearing a hat and long pants are useful ways of preventing these animals from biting you, stinging you or attaching to you. Pulling one’s socks over the bottoms of pants legs is an especially good way of preventing ticks, chiggers, and spiders from crawling up your legs. Participants should also wear sunscreen and carry water; sturdy boots are useful when hiking in rough terrain. If you are in an area where you may encounter snakes, know that feet and ankles are the most common bite locations, followed by hands. Wear protective footwear and long pants or gaiters and look before you place your hands down or around a tree. Always hike with a partner and let someone else know your itinerary.

Specific to this study, please note that semi-aquatic turtles will bite and scratch. Suggestions are provided under Animal Handling to minimize this risk. In addition, learners may choose to wear heavy gloves. Wash hands immediately after handling turtles or anytime learners have been in the field (“in the field” means being outside where you have the possibility of encountering your quarry), regardless of whether you have been bitten or scratched. If bitten or scratched, wipe the area with antiseptic just as you would an insect bite.

Leaders should be mindful of the dangers associated with other types of aquatic reptiles (snakes and alligators). Care should be taken when working around water if learners are inexperienced swimmers.

Animal Handling Guidelines & Animal Care

When handling any live animal, it is important to keep two safety issues in mind: the safety of the person who is searching for or holding the animal and the safety and welfare of the animal itself. The humane treatment of wild turtles in field research is both an ethical and a scientific necessity. Turtles are extremely vulnerable to stress and pain caused by improper handling and confinement. Traumatized animals may exhibit abnormal responses that defeat the purposes of the investigation. It is of particular importance that captured animals be returned to the exact place where they were captured, without harm, to resume their normal activities, and that habitat essential for these activities not be damaged in the course of capture efforts.

This curriculum describes a trapping technique. The interval between setting traps and checking traps should be as short as possible, never more than 24 hours. Lead instructors/investigators must make every effort to prevent trap deaths from exposure or drowning. The traps should be positioned using some type of flotation device so that captured turtles have access to air. We put a gallon or half gallon container of air with lid on tight in each hoop trap and we check to make sure that each trap floats before we leave the area.

Although turtles do not have teeth, they have a strong, powerful mouth. Any turtle can bite and will likely scratch with their toe nails. Be prepared to be bitten or scratched. Keep the turtle’s head aimed away from your body so it can’t latch on to a nearby part of your body. Never place hands in front of the turtle’s face or even close to its head. Never taunt a turtle by placing anything near its mouth to watch it bite something. And remember, some turtles have very long necks and can reach around to bite.

Holding turtles

Pick up small turtles by holding the whole shell between both hands, keeping fingers away from the mouth area. Grip the carapace (top shell) on both sides in front of the hind legs (thumbs on the carapace and fingers on the plastron (bottom shell)). Musk and snapping turtles are able to extend their heads great distances. You should be careful to keep your fingers near the rear of the turtle but still out of the way of claws.

In the case of larger turtles, placing a dark cloth over the eyes of many turtles calms them. Large snapping turtles should NOT be handled.


Processing animals and collecting data

Keep all turtles out of the direct sun so they will not dry out or overheat. Reptiles are ectotherms, animals that derive body heat from external sources. Usually they avoid overheating in their natural environments by immersing themselves in water, burrowing in the soil, or seeking refuge under leaf litter. Try not to hold them in your hands for too long. A small animal on a cold day can raise its temperature way above normal, simply by absorbing heat from your body. The best way to avoid causing stress from heat or water loss is to restrain the animals only minimally, and try not to alter their conditions too much from those of their natural environment. Collect measurement information quickly but accurately.

Return turtles to their natural habitats as soon as possible. Excessive handling and confinement stress these animals in many ways. Also, because turtles have homes and preferred territories, it is important to return each animal to the place where it was found. When displaced, many reptiles will undergo long and difficult journeys attempting to return to their original homes. Even if the release site seems acceptable, a relocated animal does not easily find a suitable home, and often is vulnerable to predators while searching for one. When returning an animal, try to return it to the same exact spot where it was found.

In general, keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • All animals must be released at the point of capture.
  • Almost all reptiles and amphibians can bite. Some never do, and some do so reliably. Know your species!
  • Hands should be washed after handling animals.
  • When they try to “swim” in the air, the turtles are probably stressed. Respect the natural inclinations of these ancient creatures, and leave them near ground level. Dropping a turtle from even a few feet may harm them.
  • You should never try to get a turtle to bite down on anything (pencil, stick, etc.)


Some material in this section was modified from the following:

Guidelines for use of Live Amphibians and Reptiles in Field Research. Compiled by American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH), The Herpetologists’ League (HL), Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAR):

Background for Instructors

Please be sure to make yourself knowledgeable about:

  • Characteristics of reptiles in general and turtles specifically including classification of turtles
  • Turtle anatomy and physiology
  • Local species, habitat preference, distinguishing characteristics
  • The local environment where trapping will occur

State websites or field guides would be good sources of information. Some general references are provided at the end of this curriculum. Also, make sure you have permission from landowners and that you have made your state wildlife resource professionals aware of your intentions.

List of Materials
  • Hoop traps with related materials (e.g., bait bucket, floaters, rope). We purchased traps from Memphis Net &Twine. (
  • Turtle shells (available from, or simulated ones created from Styrofoam bowls-Appendix 1)
  • Turtle replicas (optional)
  • Relevant data sheets
  • Clipboards
  • Field Guides
  • Waders (Chest waders are recommended but hip waders might be useful for some learners)
  • Heavy gloves
  • Large storage containers to hold animals removed from traps
  • Calipers
  • Spring scales or pan scales
  • Thermometer
  • Small pieces of rope
  • Bait of choice (we typically use plain canned sardines but have also tried hotdogs and chicken parts)
Project Description

Ask learners to share their experience and knowledge about turtles. Encourage them to think broadly. For example, ask them to describe actual experiences with wild turtles, seeing turtles on television or at an aquarium, reading stories about turtles, having turtles as pets or even hearing about people who eat turtles. This conversation should clue you in to what learners know and don’t know about turtles, about their misconceptions or misunderstandings, and about their interests. This will provide you with a ‘jumping off’ point to begin your teaching. You should value all responses and not be critical or judgmental about any of the stories shared.

            Help to focus learner thinking by asking, “What are the differences between terrestrial, aquatic, and semi-aquatic turtles?”

  • Terrestrial turtles spend their lives on land
  • Aquatic turtles spend their entire lives in the water (sea turtles) – except for egg laying
  • Semi-aquatic turtles live most of their lives in the water but is some cases, can spend considerable time on land

Turtles are reptiles so you might also provide information about the defining features of reptiles:

  • Drier skin with scales
  • Internal fertilization
  • Leathery shelled eggs that are laid on land
  • Lung breathers

Anatomical Characteristics and Differences Among Turtle Species

Provide learners with sample turtle shells, replicas or homemade Styrofoam shells (see Appendix 1 for directions on how to make these). Teach learners basic anatomical features, having them identify features on their own shell. Have them study turtle shells and make sketches in their notebooks. Remind them of the importance of accuracy. Using print or electronic resources, have them label their sketches with features such as marginal scutes, vertebral scutes, costal scutes, cervical scute (on the carapace) and the names of the various plates on the plastron. Some good Internet resources are: and

This is not an exhaustive list but these are basic features needed to identify most turtle species.

The shell of the turtle is made up of bony plates. Scutes are the keratinized material that covers the bony plates. The scutes continually peel off the shell. Most turtles have 54 scutes (38 on the carapace and 16 on the plastron).


Carapace (top shell)

Five vertebral scutes extend down the middle of the carapace. Eight Costal scutes are located on either side of the vertebral scutes. Twenty-four Marginal scutes are located around the edges of the carapace). The one Cervical scute is located just behind the head.

The carapace of a Florida cooter

The carapace of a Florida cooter

Plastron (bottom shell)

On the plastron, moving from the head to the tail, the Gular scutes are located directly behind the head, followed by the Humeral scutes followed by the Pectoral scutes. The Abdominal scutes are next, followed by the Femoral scutes and finally the Anal scutes.

Above: the plastron of a common snapping turtle.

Above: the plastron of a common snapping turtle.


The area connecting the carapace and plastron.

Above: The bridge of this yellow belly slider can be seen on the left, behind the leg.

The bridge of this yellow belly slider can be seen on the left, behind the leg.

Data Collection

Setting Traps

Depending on your situation, the instructor might previously set the traps or learners may be involved in the trap setting process. We typically bait traps with canned sardines in water. After creating a bait bucket for each trap and hanging it in the trap, place the partially opened can of sardines in the bait bucket. Each trap also needs to have empty sealed containers to make sure there is no danger of the trap sinking. We cut pieces of PVC pipe to hold the traps open and tie the end of the trap to a solid object such as a tree trunk or dock post. Traps are typically placed near areas where turtles bask, but learners may suggest other placements for experimental purposes. It is important to indicate on a map or sketch of the area where traps are located and how they are numbered.

In the picture to the left, the bait bucket is the half-gallon milk jug on the bottom and the trap mouth can also be seen to the right of the trap. The picture to the right shows the trap being placed in the water, it is important to tie the trap to a tree or solid structure around the bank.

In the picture to the left, the bait bucket is the half-gallon milk jug on the bottom and the trap mouth can also be seen to the right of the trap.In this trap the PVC pipes have been disengaged to allow the trap to collapse so that a turtle could be removed. The picture to the right shows the trap being placed in the water, it is important to tie the trap to a tree or solid structure around the bank. In this trap the PVC pipes are set correctly to hold the trap open.

Checking Traps

Learners select and put on waders based on shoe size. Two or three learners can work together to remove traps from their resting location. Two learners should walk to either side of the trap and lift the trap BY THE METAL HOOPS (not by the PVC pipes). Care should be taken not to allow the trap to collapse and the PVC pipes to fall out and sink. The learners carefully walk with the trap back to the shoreline. The third learner can pull in the rope that is tied to the trap. In the picture below there is a different set of PVC pipes.  Because this trap was larger, we used larger PVC pipes with capped ends (so that they would float).  We permanently affixed these pipes to the trap with cable ties.  This kept the trap open and floating but it also made the trap more difficult to move around and store.

Above: These students are checking the trap correctly.

Above: These students are checking the trap correctly.

The group should survey the animals that are in the trap before removing anything from the trap. Smaller turtles can be removed by reaching into the throat of the trap and pulling them out, posterior end first. Disengaging the PVC pipe from the trap and allowing the trap to collapse a little will make it easier to retrieve turtles from the trap. Care should be taken to keep hands away from turtle mouths and claws. Other learners should be prepared to take the turtles that are being removed from the trap. If a large collection container is available, turtles can be placed in this. For large turtles (such as snapping turtles in our area) it may be necessary to untie the end of the trap that was previously tied to the stationary object. Once this end is open, fold back the net and place the trap near the water’s edge so that the turtle can walk out on its own. This is safer for people and for the turtle. In our project, we DO NOT handle larger animals.

Sometimes traps will catch other animals such as fish. Reach into the throat of the trap and remove fish and return them to the water.

A fish caught in the Hoop Trap.

A fish caught in the Hoop Trap.

Retrieving turtles from the Hoop Trap.

Retrieving turtles from the Hoop Trap.

Video Trapping Turtles in a Hoop Trap:

Identifying Turtles

If there are multiple turtles in the trap, learners can work in pairs to identify their assigned turtle. You may create a dichotomous key for turtles in your area or learners can use their field guide, looking at pictures and reading the text and then comparing the information to the turtle in their possession. We ask learners to provide a minimum of three field characteristics to identify a turtle. For example, learners may say that their turtle is a yellow belly slider because it has yellow on its belly. This could actually describe multiple turtles in our area so we push them for a second distinguishing characteristic. They may then say that the turtle has yellow stripes on its leg. Again, this would describe multiple turtles in our area so we ask them for a third characteristic. They may finally refer to a yellow blotch or bar behind the eye linking a pair of yellow stripes on each side of the neck. Only after giving three field characteristics do we allow a learner group to arrive at an identification: Yellowbelly Slider (Trachemys scripta). Typically, we might also ask for a 4th characteristic (pair of dark spots on the gular scutes- just to be sure).

Some of the more common turtles for our project are:

  • Eastern Mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum) – no distinct head stripes, double hinged plastron, pectoral scutes meet only narrowly on the midline of the plastron forming a triangle.


  • Eastern Musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) – 2 pair of barbels on the chin and throat, single weakly hinged plastron, pectoral scutes are rectangular in shape, light yellowish line above and below the eye.


  • Common Snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentine) – large head, long and tapering tail armed above with large scales, small cross-shaped plastron, carapace with 3 longitudinal keels (more prominent in young turtles). [If large snapping turtles are caught in a trap they should never be handled or removed by students. See suggestions above for how to safely release these large animals.]


  •  Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) – pale transverse seams between the dorsal scutes, 2 yellow spots in line behind the eye, conspicuous red markings around the edges of the shell, legs with red and yellow stripes.


Video of Parts of the Turtle Shell:  

If you begin in the classroom you can also have learners research the types of semi-aquatic turtles that are common in their area. Field guides or internet sites will be useful. When the guides or websites include range maps, learners could generate their own list of species that might likely be found in the area of the study.

Once learners have identified the turtle to species, I ask them to attempt to identify whether the turtle is male, female or too young to tell. Again, learners will need to go back to their field guides to be able to do this. Depending on the number of different species caught, student groups can share with other student groups the identification of their turtle, the distinguishing features, the sex and selected other information (for example, how many eggs female of the species might lay or what kind of food it prefers).

If you plan to submit data to The HERP Project you should take the following measurements for each turtle:

  • Carapace length (notch to notch)
  • Width at widest point
  • Shell height at tallest point (carapace to plastron)
  • Plastron length
  • Mass

Information for submitting data to The HERP Project can be found at Please contact us at to make us aware of your interest in project participation. A sample of our data sheet can be found in Appendix 2. Another option is to download the free HERP Project data collection app for android devices from .

Measuring Turtles

The size of the caliper used depends on the size of the turtle. The smallest caliper possible is generally best. We typically measure in millimeters.

To measure carapace length, put one end of the caliper at the most anterior position of the cervical scute and the other end at the farthest position on the posterior end of the carapace (notch to notch).

Using A Digital Caliper to Measure the Carapace Length of a Painted Turtle

Using A Digital Caliper to Measure the Carapace Length of a Painted Turtle

  • To measure width at widest point, determine the widest point on the shell and measure from one side to the other. Make sure the caliper is perpendicular to an imaginary line drawn from the middle of the head of the turtle to the middle of the tail.
  • To measure shell height, determine the tallest point of the shell from plastron to carapace. This measurement is important to describe the size of the dome on the turtle shell. Slide one end of the caliper under the turtle next to the plastron and bring down the other end at the tallest point on the carapace. For some turtles, dome shape may give an indication of the gender of the turtle.
  • To measure plastron length, put one end of the caliper at the most anterior position of the plastron and the other end at the farthest position on the posterior end of the plastron.
Using A Digital Caliper to Measure the Plastron Length of a Yellow Belly Slider

Using A Digital Caliper to Measure the Plastron Length of a Yellow Belly Slider

Weighing Turtles

If using a pan scale, place container on the scale, tare the scale and then add the turtle. We typically measure mass in grams.

If using a spring scale, the size of the spring scale depends on the mass of the turtle. The smallest scale possible is generally best. Make sure that the spring scale begins at zero.

  • Make a “saddle” for weighing turtles by tying loops at both ends of a small piece of rope. The length and thickness of the rope depends on the size of the turtles.
  • Holding the turtle low to the ground, wrap the saddle around the shell of the turtle (width). Insert one loop into another and tighten so that the animal is secure in the saddle. Attach the other loop to the spring scale and read the mass. Remove the turtle from the saddle and determine the mass of the saddle to subtract from the first measurement.
Testing out the saddle to mass the turtle.

Testing out the saddle to mass the turtle.

Massing the turtle.

Massing the turtle.

Other Information Needed if Completing The HERP Project Data Sheets

If you are completing HERP Project data sheets, you will also need to record the following information.

  • GPS Site location
  • Habitat
    • 1= road,
    • 2= field/forest edge (within 6m of edge),
    • 3= field,
    • 4= pine forest,
    • 5= hardwood forest,
    • 6= stream or stream bank,
    • 7= open wetland,
    • 8= forested wetland,
    • 9= lake,
    • 10=other
  • Weather conditions at time of capture
    • 1 = no precipitation;
    • 2 = light drizzle/mist;
    • 3 = rain
  • Water Temperature in either degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius
  • Air Temperature in either degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius
  • Number of days since last rain
  • Sky Index
    • 0 = 0 – 24% clouds;
    • 1 = 25 – 49% clouds;
    • 2 = 50 – 74% clouds;
    • 3 = 75 – 100% clouds)

In some cases, The HERP Project is conducting mark/recapture studies. This is indicated on the data sheets by “turtle code” and “new or recapture”. Descriptions of mark/recapture population studies are beyond the scope of this curriculum. See Resources for suggestions to learn about mark/recapture studies.

Marking a painted turtle and recording data for mark/recapture study

Marking a painted turtle and recording data for mark/recapture study.

Marking a Yellow Belly Slider for our Mark/Recapture Study.

Marking a Yellow Belly Slider for our Mark/Recapture Study.


If you are conducting a biological inventory or population study, you will want to document your site location, trap location(s), and the day and time of each capture event. You should also record total trap captures. For example, “On June 15, 2014 we set 5 baited (sardines) traps in the lake at 2 PM. The location of each trap is marked on our lake diagram (not provided here). We retrieved the traps on June 16, 2014 at 10AM. We found the following in each trap:

Trap 1 – nothing was found

Trap 2 – 3 yellow belly sliders (data collected on all)

Trap 3 – 1 yellow belly slider (data collected) and 1 large snapping turtle (released-no

data collected)

Trap 4 – 2 musk turtles and 5 fish (data collected on both turtles, fish released)

Trap 5 – 1 painted turtle (data collected) “

A Non-trapping Option – Observing basking turtles

Select a pond, lake, or river to monitor. Basking turtles are most active in warm weather in the middle of the day. Upon arrival at your site, find a good position from which to observe. If some learners have binoculars, the search range can be wider. As learners observe turtles, have them describe to the rest of the group the distinguishing characteristics that identify this turtle species. Record the GPS location of your site.

Data Reporting

In North Carolina we have a citizen science project that provides a place where we can share our findings. After creating an account, our students submit their findings to The Carolina Herp Atlas, Species, location information and a picture are all that is needed to participate in this project. We have a group account, but students can also create their own personal accounts. From this database, students also research species occurrences via county-level distribution maps. Other states may have similar state-level projects.

Data Reporting: Reporting Data to The HERP Project & The Carolina Herp Atlas

Through use of the free Herp Project android application (available for FREE download:, HRE participants record data and upload it to an open source database found on the Herp Project website (  This enables us to compare our data with previous years, and we can download data sets for further analysis.  We also report our data to the Carolina Herp Atlas (, a citizen science database initiated to document the distributions of amphibians and reptiles across North and South Carolina.

Teaching Points
  • Share natural history information about the aquatic turtle species common in your area.
  • Lead a discussion about the ecological role of turtles and the pressures that some turtle populations are facing. For example, the commercial trade is responsible for many turtles being taken out of wild populations for use as pets, food, or medicine. In addition, non-native species sold as pets often get released into the wild by pet owners who have decided they no longer want to care for them. An internet search for “Asian turtle trade” will bring up a variety of reports and news publications. Another pressure is road mortality. Both terrestrial and semi-aquatic turtles move across roads during breeding seasons and often become victims of traffic.
  • Describe situations related to non-native species. For example, in our area the red-eared slider is not a native turtle but people who had them as pets have released them into the natural environment. They are a subspecies of our yellow-bellied slider and the populations have been interbreeding with unknown repercussions.


  • Amstrup, S.C., McDonald, T.L. & Manly, B.F.J. (2005). Handbook of Capture-Recapture Analysis. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press
  • Beane, J.C., Braswell, A.L., Mitchell, J.C., Palmer, W.M., & Harrison, J. R. (2010). Amphibians & Reptiles of the Carolinas and Virginia. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press.
  • Buhlmann, K., Tuberville, T., & Gibbons, W. (2008). Turtles of the Southeast. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press.
  • Gibbons, W., Greene, J., &Hagen, C. (2009). Turtles: The Animal Answer Guide. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Palmer, W.M. & Braswell, A. L. (1995). Reptiles of North Carolina. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press.

Web Resources

  • Evol3000

  • Gibbons, W. Turtle Population Studies. Carolina Tips.

Download the Standards Connections in .doc or .pdf format.

Funding Acknowledgement

This project is supported by the National Science Foundation, Grant No. DRL-1114558. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this manuscript are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Transcripts of Videos

Transcript Trapping Turtles in a Hoop Trap

Leader: I want you to go into this lake, go on either end of the trap, and pull up at the same time on the hoops.  Alright? Ok.

Participant: Do you wanna go first?

(Two participants go into the lake and reach for the Hoop Trap.)

Leader: Do not touch the pipe, guys.  Remember, hold it up by the hoops. (Participants grab the trap and lift by the hoops at either end.) Perfect.

Participants: Wow, look at that, there are fish in there.

Leader: And two turtles. Alright, now bring it up.

Participant: Are you going out first or do you want me to?

(Participants bring the trap out of the water.)

Leader: Excellent.

Since these are smaller turtles we can actually go through the mouth of the trap and not have to take out the back.  So what I want you guys to do is, sometimes when they’re that far away you want to break it down a little bit.  Get your hand in there, be careful of the mouth because, yes, they still can bite, and just fish your way out, like that.  And remember to do the sandwich.  There you go, Jimmy.  And now Amber, you wanna try doing it?

Amber: Of course!

Leader: Be mindful of the head!  Yeah, just like that.  Perfect.

Transcript Parts of the Turtle Shell

Terry: Alright, so we got a turtle in our trap, good jobs!  So the first thing we want to do is make sure we remember the parts of the turtle shell because we want to identify this turtle and we do with features and we have to know the parts of the shell.

So, who remembers the name of the top shell?

Participant: Is it a…

Terry: It’s curved like a “C”.

Participant: Carapace?

Terry: Carapace, right.  So the top shell is the carapace and there are some important plates on the carapace that we need to remember.  The ones that go right down underneath the backbone, underneath the vertebrae, do you remember what we called those in the classroom?  They go under the vertebrae…  The vertebral scoots.  The vertebral scoots.  And then on either side of the vertebral scoots we have the costal scoots and what are the ones around the edge called?

Participant: The marginal scoots?

Terry: The marginal scoots, good, the marginal scoots.  And remember, it’s the marginal scoots that we’ll use on this particular species’ back to see whether they’re smooth or whether they’re indented.

So we’ve got the carapace on top, we’ve got the vertebral scoots, the costal scoots, and then the marginal scoots, right.  Now, what is the shell on the bottom called?  Turn it over for us, Amber, so we can see the bottom.  Watch out for your fingers with that head.  So what’s the bottom shell called?

Participant: The plastron.

Terry: It’s not the carapace, it’s the plastron, right.  The plastron.  And you can see the different plates in the plastron.  For the turtles in our area, the most important plate on the plastron is gonna be this one at the top and it is called the gular plate.  So tell me what you notice on the gular plate of this turtle.

Participant: There are two dots.

Terry: Two black spots and that’s one of those distinguishing characteristics of this particular turtle.  So we’ve got the plastron, we’ve got the carapace, and what’s this area called right here where the two connect?

The bridge, remember?  It’s called the bridge, right.

Appendix 1. Making Styrofoam Turtle Shells

Using shell diagrams found online, draw the carapace scute borders on one bowl and the plastron scute borders on another bowl. Cut the plastron bowl to size, which will depend on species. Staple the two pieces together in the area that would be the bridge.

Styrofoam and real turtle shells.

Styrofoam and real turtle shells.

The Aquatic Turtles Curriculum
Download a version of The Aquatic Turtles Curriculum

The HERP Project: Aquatic Turtles June 7.2017 (docx) OR Aquatic Turtles June 7.2017 (pdf)