Turtle Camp is a long-term, annual study of temperature controlled sex determination in painted turtles and other reptiles. The field site is in Thomson, Illinois, and the project grew over decades to include a research team of graduate, undergraduate and high school students.
What happens at Turtle Camp?
Well, typical mornings are spent on the Thomson Sand Prairie, which can be found just south of the Thomson Causeway, our main field site (an island in the Mississippi River in northern Illinois/Iowa).
We walk the sand prairie searching for protected western hognose snakes (Heterodon nasicus), ornate box turtles (Terrapene ornata), and various other herps, including six-lined racerunners (Cnemidophorus sexlineatus), fox snakes (Elaphe vulpina), blue racers (Coluber constrictor), bullsnakes (Pituophis catenifer), garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis), water snakes (Nerodia sipedon), brown snakes (Storeria dekayii), and ringneck snakes (Diadophis punctatus). We also locate and excavate nests of snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina).
We arrive back at our lovely, spacious breezeway for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches accompanied by generous helpings of green olives. Afternoons are spent clipping scales on snakes captured that morning, who will be journeying back home the following day. Beginning in 1999, we initiated trapping studies of aquatic turtles in the surrounding water, which has begun to yield tremendously valuable demographic, phenotypic, and genetic information (on males and juveniles in particular for painted turtles, Chrysemys picta) and on the resident population of protected Blanding’s turtles (Emydoidea blandingii).
Then, around four, the painted turtles emerge from the water and begin nesting on the Causeway island. We observe the nesting process and, when it is complete, we measure, mark, and obtain tissue from the moms and unearth and weigh the eggs. The eggs are then reburied, and the nest cleverly disguised with our special Janzen Lab imitation turtle urine (ingredients: water)…NOT! All nests are then mapped on our master Causeway map. This map allows us to find nests when needed with only a minimal amount of cursing the map, the turtles, the trees, the measuring tools, and the mapmakers.
For the results of all these struggles, see the publications page, which includes work done by Dr. Janzen before he was blessed with his many wonderful turtle campers.
Where is Turtle Camp?
The state to the west of the Mississippi River is Iowa, and the one to the east is Illinois. Thomson is the red star. The Thomson Causeway is just outside of town, and is actually an island in the Mississippi River.
Who is the Turtle Camp team?
Turtle Camp is a wondrous place. It is a land where hundreds of turtles come up annually to lay their eggs among the Winnebagos of the Thomson Causeway Recreational Area. This mass egging festival typically begins in late May, coinciding exactly with the arrival of the massive Janzen Lab Turtle Egg Excavating and Weighing Forces (JLTEEWF). Nesting time lasts through June and sometimes into early July, and is a hectic time for the JLTEEWF team!
The Turtle Camp Research and Education in Ecology, or TREE, program provides high school and undergraduate students with an opportunity to conduct ecological research on organisms in their natural environments, learn key ecological concepts, discuss their work with the public and the scientific community, and participate in multilevel reciprocal mentoring.
The program initially received funding from the Ecological Society of America and subsequently from Iowa State University and, primarily, the National Science Foundation.