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Stories from the field: The elusive Musk Turtle

Our intrepid intern, Ethan St. Aubin, recently assisted in the ongoing survey for amphibians and reptiles as a part of the Maine Amphibian and Reptile Atlas Project. The project is seeking to update their current atlas with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW).

DSF was asked to help in the search for the elusive Eastern Musk Turtle in the small Town of Beddington where it was last seen in the 60’s. The search focused on the small town of Beddington along the Narraguagus River and Beddington Lake. Bedington lies at the very extent of their known range and a sighting in the 60’s at the fish weir has brought the survey back to verify if the turtles are still around. The musk turtle is a small dark brown turtle and is often confused for stones on the river floor. The turtles prefer vegetated muddy river bottoms and rarely emerge to bask in the sun unlike the much more common painted turtles.

In addition to the original sighting location at the fish weir at the base of Beddington Lake where the Narraguagus River reforms, a number of other sites where selected and traps were set. The traps are collapsible fish traps that do not harm the turtles or any animal that goes inside. Traps were also deployed at the marsh at the northern edge of Beddington Lake and along the western edge. Finally traps were set along the edge of Chalk Pond near the DSF boat launch. Sardines were used for bait as their oils can be scented in a wide radius by the turtles. Traps were concentrated along the edges of the water among vegetation as the turtles prefer shallow vegetated areas that also tend to be warmer.

Unfortunately no musk turtles were found in the traps but a variety of other species were caught and recorded. Painted turtles, however, seemed to love the sardine bait and 7 were caught in one trap! A number of juvenile snapping turtles and frogs were also caught and released safely back into the water.

Despite not catching any of the elusive musk turtles, the survey was a great way to learn more about the variety of species inhabiting the waters of Maine. Building relationships with other organizations in the region is also a great way to strengthen the shared goal of conservation and appreciation for the environment. The atlas is a great way to figure out what species are in your area and so when you are out in nature you can keep an eye open for them!

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