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Tracking the Florida mud turtle for first time in South Florida

By SCCF - | Oct 5, 2020

SCCF Florida mud turtle

The Florida mud turtle is the rarest freshwater turtle found on Sanibel and is considered the holy grail species at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation due to its elusive nature and the limited number of encounters.

“During a recent finding, we deployed a radio transmitter on one so we can learn more about their movements and hopefully find others,” Wildlife & Habitat Management Director Chris Lechowicz said. “There have been no studies on this species in the south of Polk County, so SCCF is happy to add to the knowledge of this turtle, especially on a rare island population.”

Visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=-d79kORFSwo&feature=youtu.be to watch a video of the release of the turtle after the tracking device was placed on it. The seldom seen turtle appears to be ephemeral in nature by only being found during periods of high-water levels from rainfall. They have been reported, in other parts of their range, to spend the dry times of the year in dormancy.

Sanibel is special in that it has representation of every one of the nation’s seven terrestrial turtle families.

“This is highly unusual for a barrier island,” Lechowicz said. “Of our high diversity of island turtles, two of the terrestrial or freshwater turtles are considered very rare.”

SCCF Striped mud turtle

They are the Florida chicken turtle and the Florida mud turtle. Sanibel has two mud turtle species, the Florida mud and striped mud. The latter is considered common on Sanibel, with the Florida mud turtle being rare or uncommon.

Although the turtle has been documented in the 1960s and 1970s on Sanibel, no verifiable occurrences of the species transpired until 2012, when two hatchlings were found within a month of each other. Since then, one adult female was documented in 2014 and two more adults in 2020.

Florida mud turtles are an oval-shaped brown 4-inch to 5-inch turtle with a hinged plastron. They have a very thin bridge — the part that connects the top of the shell or carapace to the bottom of the shell or plastron — as compared to the common striped mud turtle.

The striped mud turtle is easily distinguished by its three broad stripes running down the top of its shell. However, some striped mud turtles have very faint or absent striping on the carapace, which often leads to incorrect identifications.

If you see a Florida mud turtle on Sanibel, report the sighting by contacting the SCCF Wildlife & Habitat Management Office at 239-472-3984 or clechowicz@sccf.org.