Saturday, July 9, 2011

Science by Housatonic Community College students and CAS summer campers

A fantastic merger of science and education took place at Mondo Ponds in Milford last week. Dr. Tony Pappantoniou's students from Housatonic Community College, who you may have read about in this post, continued their biological survey work in conjunction with Connecticut Audubon Society. This field work involved summer camp kids from the Coastal Center at Milford Point. Finally, CAS Conservation Biologist Dr. Twan Leenders and Conservation Technician Scott Kruitbosch also joined everyone. You can see another part of this adventure right here.

Dr. Pappantoniou and his students kindly donated their time and knowledge to help the campers learn about the turtles and fish of Mondo Ponds. With Twan present, a herpetologist by training who has been doing research on amphibians for 20 years, we had a group of experts and kids eager to get into the water. The students started off with seining, which is in effect fishing with a large net that goes from the surface of the water to the bottom. This net is brought to the shore then lifted to capture fish and other life in the pond. Below is a photo of Dr. Pappantoniou and two of his students doing just that.

Various young of the year species, like largemouth bass and sunfish, were most of what was captured. Photographs and data were collected for them all. The campers got a chance to hear what the students had to say about these finds and get a great look at them up close in special containers. I snapped a shot of these tiny fish before they were transferred immediately back into water.

Next, we moved on to check the turtle traps that had been placed in the ponds the day before when we visited to capture and test amphibians. They were baited with sardines and cat food. Two of them were put in the surprisingly deep water near the pond's edge. The first one came up empty as you can see in the photo below.

Turtles can swim into these traps, but not back out. We always place them in the late afternoon and check them the next morning so that they are not in the trap for any significant length of time. The second trap contained three turtles - one snapping turtle and two eastern painted turtles. This really got everyone excited as students helped remove them while campers looked on, listening intently to all of the facts and information the experts offered. We examined all of the turtles, identifying sex, age as best as possible, subspecies, looked for leeches or signs of illness, and so forth.

The snapping turtle was of particular interest to the kids due to its large size and imposing features. Twan handled it like the professional he is, allowing everyone to get an up-close view of what would be a dangerous creature to corral for anyone without years of experience. Lastly, Dr. Pappantoniou and his students marked the turtles so that they could possibly be rediscovered in seasons or years to come.

This is done safely and harmlessly by really only one method - making small notches in the edge of the shells. It is really no different or more painful than filing a person's nails. Two different letters are notched in each turtle so that they can be uniquely identified quickly if recaptured. This would help shed light on the lifespan of these turtles as well as their movement, if any. After explaining this process in detail the students proceeded to make the notches while we looked on. All of the turtles were released back into the water unharmed shortly after.

A big thank you to Dr. Pappantoniou and the students who came out to give us their time and knowledge. Everyone had a fantastic afternoon. We have a special video of Twan discussing the snapping turtles and more with everyone while he holds the one we captured that will be posted tomorrow. You do not want to miss it. Watch it here!

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photos © Scott Kruitbosch

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