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Salisbury University researchers prepare to study spotted turtles in Delmarva

John J. Mosesso, NBII


 Scientists from Salisbury University have started a new research project to study spotted turtles in the Delmarva Peninsula.

Spotted turtles can be found between the Great Lakes Region in Canada and the southeastern U.S. Its most distinctive feature are the yellow spots on the turtle’s black shell, which increase as it gets older.


Over many decades, spotted turtles have declined due to the pet trade and habitat loss caused by agriculture and urban development.

Spotted turtles are listed as endangered in some states, but not in Delaware. Eric Liebgold, a biology professor at Salisbury University, says he wants to find out why this species of turtle survives better in Delmarva than other parts of North America.

“It’s really interesting to see what effects [people have] had on them and potentially where they’ve been most resilient," said Liebgold. "Spotted turtles appear to be a little more common in Delaware and Maryland than say in New York or South Carolina. And we want to know why so we can go to these other areas where they’re less common and use that information to help them in those parts of their range as well.”

With the turtles they capture, they aim to study the turtle’s unknown Delmarva population and conduct genetic analysis to better understand their decline.


Researchers began setting up traps for spotted turtles last month in several sites in Delmarva and are collaborating with the Delaware Wild Lands to study the turtles at the Roman Fisher Farm at the Great Cypress Swamp, the Wild Lands’ largest land holding. Leibgold says that he and his colleagues will return to the sites in the spring.

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