Photography as a Means of Identification of Individual ...

Photography as a Means of Identification of Individual Eastern
Box Turtles, Terrapene carolina carolina
Donald E. Hoss1, Carolyn R. Hoss1 and Antoinette M. Gorgone2
Citizen Scientist, 118 Straits Haven Road, Beaufort, NC 28516. [email protected]
2
NMFS, SEFSC, NOAA Beaufort Lab, 101 Pivers Island Road, Beaufort, NC 28516. [email protected]
1

Introduction
The ability to identify individuals over long time periods can be used for mark-recapture techniques providing information on movement, distribution
and population size. Although, the most common method of marking box turtles for identification has been to file notches in their marginal scutes, this
method is invasive with potential of damage to the individual turtle. Photographic techniques to identify individuals by their natural markings have
been well established for many species. The purpose of this study was to determine if the pattern on the carapace of the Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene
carolina carolina) can be used to identify individuals over long periods of time.

Discussion

Methods
Box turtles captured opportunistically over a 12-year
period on 3.4 ha mostly wooded site in eastern Carteret
County, North Carolina (Figure 1).
Left side of each turtle was photographed.
The plastron length was measured for all turtles.
Two of the authors compared captured turtles to the
photographic catalog of all identified individuals.
The third author confirmed turtles identified as
recaptures.

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Study area

Figure 1. North Carolina

Patterns on the shell were easily identified and varied
among individuals (Figure 2).
Identifying marks were well-defined, with each of the
13 scutes displaying individual patterns, minimizing
chance of misidentification.
Scars or deformities in several turtles allowed
validation of individual ID through shell markings
(Figures 3-4).

Results

Conclusion

Forty turtles were captured and photographed (Table 1).
Sizes ranged from 2.8 to 15.2 cm straight plastron length.
Sixteen turtles were captured more than once both within
year and between years.
Longest recapture interval was 9 years.
Smallest turtle recaptured was 6.4 cm at time of original
capture.
Turtles >7 cm or larger in plastron length showed no change
in shell patterns over time.

Tc028

Unique and stable shell patterns on eastern box turtles
7 cm allowed easy recognition of individuals over time
through comparison of photographs.
Photography is inexpensive, reliable and less invasive
than commonly used marginal scutes notching, making
it a preferable approach.

Tc028 the smallest turtle captured at 2.8 cm
plastron length illustrating the different
pattern in young individuals.
Table 1. Resight history.

June 2005

August 2004

August 2011

July 2011
Figure 3. The shell pattern of Tc003
shown in June 2005 and six years
later. Arrows are pointing to
underbite which verifies the
identification.

Figure 4. The shell pattern of Tc004
shown in August 2004 and seven
years later. Arrows are pointing to
damage to shell which verifies the
identification.

Figure 2. Five individual turtles illustrating the variation in carapace patterns.

Tc015

Tc010

Tc011

Tc017

Tc008

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