Turtles steal show at inventory of nature preserve


The Journal Gazette

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) – Over the May 31 weekend, biologists documented dozens of butterflies, beetles and other bugs at Eagle Marsh Nature Preserve.

The scientists examined plants, pulled samples of species and documented wildlife, spending hours walking through the site as part of a 24-hour project to identify and count all possible species of plants, birds and other wildlife at the preserve.

But it was a pair of Blanding’s turtles – and a lack of Asian Carp – that stole the show last Sunday.

The two adult turtles swam in containers as the scientists and visitors observed them.

Nearly 100 scientists from the Indiana Academy of Science met at Eagle Marsh May 31 and last Sunday to conduct a BioBlitz.

Scientists found more than 300 species of beetles, three types of singing insects, eight species of dragonflies, about 300 plant species, 73 types of birds, two varieties of snakes, 31 species of fish, 19 types of butterflies and a variety of others that will be published in a full report next year, said Betsy Yankowiak, Little River Wetland Project’s director of Preserves and Programs.

The collected data give the organization, which owns Eagle Marsh, a comprehensive inventory of what lives at the site, she told The Journal Gazette.

Blanding’s turtles are an endangered species in Indiana, said Mark Jordan, a professor in the department of biology at IPFW.

While the turtles have been documented to live 70 years or more, they do not reach sexual maturity until about age 14, and the large majority of eggs are consumed by predators such as raccoons, Jordan explained.

So to find two turtles – especially male and female adults – was not only rare but also exciting, he said.

“One of my colleagues saw Blanding’s turtles here three years ago in 2011 and that was the first time they have been observed or documented in Allen County since the late 1970s,” Jordan said. “So this is the first time we’ve had our hands on them on the property.”

While the scientists studied and celebrated the find, they also rejoiced in what they didn’t find during their hunt – Asian carp.

Eagle Marsh, which contains the meeting spot of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds, soon will see a multigovernment-agency project to widen an existing berm that serves as a physical separation of the two basins. The berm, along the Graham McCulloch Ditch, is designed to keep the ecologically troubling invasive carp out of the Great Lakes and other invading species out of the Mississippi.

While the silver and big-headed carp that have spurred concerns from scientists have never been recorded in Eagle Marsh or the Little River, Yankowiak said it was a relief when none was found.

Larry “Doc” Wiedman, a professor of biology at the University of Saint Francis who serves on the Little River Wetlands Project’s executive committee, said although it’s good news that no Asian carp have shown up on the radar, the fish is only a “poster child” for other equally harmful species.

“It’s just that everyone has seen that YouTube video of the carp flying through the air, so they are the ones that get the attention,” he said.

Although all of the information gathered over the weekend is preliminary data, it will help the preserve enhance the habitat for rare or endangered species, Little River Wetlands Project officials said.

A report outlining all of the findings will be available late next spring through the Indiana Academy of Science, officials said.