The tower of turtles

My name is Liam and I’m currently employed at the The Greater Vancouver Zoo to work with western painted turtles, Oregon spotted frogs, and the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly. I have been working under the supervision of Andrea Gielens, Lead Biologist for the Fraser Valley Wetlands Wildlife Program, and have really enjoyed my job so far.

My day-to-day tasks involve husbandry for the animals, which includes feeding, cleaning, and monitoring the young. In addition to husbandry, I occasionally do maintenance or prep work for future projects, like digging holes for a greenhouse platform, or making lids for tadpole tubs and caterpillar/butterfly containers.

Moments before returning to the wild.

A couple weeks ago, we went out for the first turtle release of the season. Under Andrea’s supervision, the turtles were raised by students Langley Fine Arts School to give them a head start before being released. After weighing them and recording their chip number, we let them free to suitable habitat. It was interesting because it was the first time I felt like I was truly making a difference in the world. It was humbling to realise that the turtles I am currently caring for will soon be released to the wild in the same manner to grow populations at risk. I felt like I was helping Andrea and biologists like her leave a mark, one that decades down the line will hopefully still be visible.

Weighing the turtle before release.

I also recently went out on my first turtle nest monitoring trip with Andrea. We walked the banks of a slough coming off the Fraser River in Deroche, just east of Mission. It was fascinating not only seeing these turtles in their natural habitat, but also seeing their nesting behaviour. The monitors from the previous night had seen a turtle digging a nest the night before, so we dug it up using what Andrea dubbed “The Spoon of Science.” But what was really interesting was actually getting to see a turtle dig her nest and, after laying her eggs, fill it up again. I realized not many people will get to witness something like that in their life, so I felt quite lucky. We picked her up just before she finished burying, to help her save some energy. It’s interesting how much weight they lose, especially after laying 17 eggs. Not only do they release all the eggs, but they also release a bunch of water on the sand to ensure the nest stays moist. With that, the poor turtle was so tired she barely struggled when we picked her up. We  took some measurements, weighed her, and released her back into the water. Even though we only ended up getting the two nests that night, we still acquired 31 eggs to add the the headstarting and conservation breeding program at the zoo.

Our first butterfly enjoying a much needed honey-water concoction.

Last week our first Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly eclosed from its cocoon, and the first legs appeared on our Oregon spotted frog tadpoles. That was pretty exciting, to see the animals develop under our care.

I’m really happy to be in this position at the Greater Vancouver Zoo. It has confirmed to me that I am going the right direction with my ecology and conservation education. I look forward to the rest of my work term here, and am excited to see the how the turtl project progresses in future years.