We used radio telemetry to track the terrestrial movements and seasonal habitat use patterns of Western Pond Turtles (Actinemys marmorata) near two ponds in the Carrizo Plain Ecological Reserve, California, USA. We captured 93 turtles in September 2005 and, of these, we tagged three males and six females(weighing > 300 g) with external transmitters. Tagged turtles traveled from 255–1,096 m over the 448-day study, and we found none further than 343 m from ponds. All turtles moved away from the ponds as water levels receded in the fall, resulting in periods of terrestrial overwintering ranging from 10–30 weeks (74–202 d). We found no evidence for group migrations as turtles departed ponds over 2–8 week periods, moved in different directions from their ponds, and used different habitats. Turtles overwintered mainly in oak and chaparral vegetation communities, which constituted most of the local vegetation. We found overwintering turtles in a variety of microhabitats, but all turtles were on the surface with their carapace just visible amongst the duff layer. Turtles returned to ponds over several weeks, sometimes months after they refilled with winter rains. In the winter of 2006–2007, no turtles returned to terrestrial overwintering sites used the previous year. Most of the turtles we tracked spent over half of each year on land, demonstrating the importance of terrestrial habitats around these seasonal ponds. This pattern is similar to pond turtles living in streams (overwinter on land), as compared to permanent ponds (turtles often remain in water).
Terrestrial movement patterns of western pond turtles (Actinemys marmorata) in central California
David S. Pilliod, Justin L. Welty, Robert Stafford