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The discovery of a previously-unknown population of threatened Ringed Map Turtles was released April 30


COVINGTON, La.—In August 2021, U. S. Geological Survey ecologist Brad Glorioso was browsing a citizen-scientist website when he saw photos of what looked like a species of federally Threatened turtle.

A teenager sits in a boat holding a tiny turtle in each hand, smiling.

Glorioso conferred with colleagues to be certain, and sure enough, it was the Ringed Map Turtle: listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1986 and previously only known to exist in the Pearl River system in Mississippi and Louisiana.

But the location of these photos were Covington, Louisiana—a completely different waterway from the turtles’ known habitat. 

Glorioso had to find out more. 

He looked up the author of the photos and realized he recognized the name: Aidan Ford. 

Glorioso had previously met then 15-year-old Ford in 2019 during a community conservation field trip. He emailed Ford to confirm the teenager had truly spotted the protected turtles in Covington, and Ford confirmed he did. 

Ford, now 18, said the day he took them, he was just outside doing something he’d grown to love: photographing animals in nature. Ford explained his grandfather taught him photography when he was about 12 or 13 years old, and he’s been practicing nature photography ever since. 

In fact, he now has about 2,000 posts on the same nature enthusiast website. 

“I love all reptiles and amphibians,” Ford said, noting his fondness of animals started at a very young age. 

Glorioso took the information he learned from Ford and investigated in Covington himself just a few weeks later and saw them himself: more Ringed Map Turtles. 

After that, scientists set out to determine the origin of the turtles to answer the question—where did they come from? And over five trips between October 2021 and November 2022, tissue samples of 23 turtles were collected, which were then analyzed, and the results were published April 30, 2024 in an issue of Herpetological Conservation and Biology.

Glorioso, along with fellow authors Will Selman from Millsaps College, and Brian Kreiser from the University of Southern Mississippi, determined through genetic testing that the population Ford helped locate seems to have been there all along, and were not simply moved by humans from the Pearl River system. 

Now that Ringed Map Turtles are known from two systems, it gives the species redundancy which could help the species withstand catastrophic events. The authors believe it is possible that the two river systems Ringed Map Turtles are now found were once connected thousands of years ago.

“I was surprised but excited,” Glorioso said, when he first saw the images Ford posted online. “With their unique appearance making them instantly recognizable by anyone, turtles have always been a favorite animal of mine and have held a fond place in my heart since as far back as I can remember.”

Glorioso said one way to aid in the survival of this threatened species is to ensure their basking and nesting areas are not disturbed. 

“When limbs and logs are cleared out of waterways to make room for man-made structures like bulkheads, turtles’ natural habitat are destroyed,” said Glorioso.

Ford, who has both a snake and lizard as pets, was equally enthusiastic to have assisted in furthering science. 

“I was super excited to find out [my turtle sighting was scientifically relevant],” Ford said, explaining that he told friends and family about it. 

Next year Ford is due to begin college and aims to study environmental science. 

And he said one day, he hopes to work for the USGS, to pursue a career doing something he loves.

Ford gave some advice he said he’d pass on to other young people who are interested in science and want to get more involved. 

“Go outside, go to a state park, get out there and have fun,” he said. 

A Ringed Map Turtle basks on a log suspended above water.
A young Ringed Map Turtle basks on a log.
Two turtles bask in the sun, surrounded by water.

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