Welcome back, Megan Spots!

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Actually, there isn’t any reason to welcome her “back,” since she didn’t really go away, but this was the first day that I found a definite female above ground. I can only say “I” in this case, and not “we,” because everyone else was on spring break. Here is Megan Spots, named when she was found last year (2015) in the courtyard and photographed for the first time. Like several of the other turtles, she was not documented before the spring of 2015, when our project to identify and sequence inherited genetic markers (microsatellites) began with an initial round of funding from the Princeton Education Foundation. Of course, she might have been in the courtyard for many years, but nobody had recorded her presence. Out of the many questions that students have asked about turtles in the Riverside School courtyard, one of the most frequent was, “How many are out there?” The answer came as a huge surprise, when we determined that there were almost 40! As of this point, we haven’t found any babies from Megan Spots, but students still need to test a few of the younger turtles with our “microsatellite matching” game.

In case you want to try, here it is:

 

Megan Spots is the largest of all our box turtle females, currently weighing in at 589 grams. That is even heavier than her weight in September of 2015, when she was 584 grams. As of this point, the weights of all our turtles in 2016 are either unchanging or have increased over the winter. None of them have lost weight, which is rather surprising, because we’d been thinking that turtles must be burning off some of their excess fat in the five months since they were last aboveground. Our best guess is that they drank some water while hibernating, or maybe even ate some worms, which would have helped them maintain their weight, although considering how their metabolisms must’ve slowed while sleeping, drinking or absorbing a little bit of water from the ground seems to be more likely. Either way, it would be very unusual to learn that that Megan Spots doesn’t have any babies, because a heavier turtle is usually an older turtle, and if she lived in the courtyard for as long as Yedlin or Pickle, then it is a complete mystery why she doesn’t have any offspring at all.

This turtle’s name might seem a bit unusual, and it’s because “Megan” and “Spots” both received equal numbers of votes in Ms. Bazin’s kindergarten class when we first found her in 2015. With brown eyes and a flat plastron (bottom shell), there was no question that she was a female, and one of the numerous soccer players in this particular kindergarten wanted to name her after a famous soccer player, who he thought was named “Megan Hamm.” Even though this player turned out to be Mia Hamm, the first name stuck, and that’s why we have Megan Spots. As for where the name “Spots” came from, just take a look at that shell! She is also one of the darkest turtles, with plenty of black on her skin and shell, including her plastron (see below).

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Also interesting about Megan Spots is that today she appeared in an area where she has never been sighted before, and almost completely opposite to where she was first spotted last year. Does this mean that she is hibernating in different places each winter? Clearly more research is needed, which is why I have my fingers crossed on those recent grant proposals that I wrote!

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