Eastern Box Turtle

CHARLESTON — West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR) is asking you for your help.

WVDNR has launched two citizen science projects to track the populations of fireflies and eastern box turtles.

According to posts on the WVDNR Wildlife Resources section website, both fireflies and eastern box turtles are experiencing population declines across the state.

Mack Frantz, Natural Heritage/Wildlife Diversity Zoologist, working with the firefly citizen science project and Kevin Oxenrider, Amphibian and Reptile Program Leader, working with woodland (formerly eastern) box turtle citizen science project say that these citizen science projects are a good first step to better understand the decline of these populations.

“We do not have quantifiable data at this point to know for sure... Several global long-term studies that have recently been published verify general insect declines around the world, fireflies being one of the affected taxa groups,” says Frantz in an email interview.

Oxenrider says, also in an email interview, “The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists the woodland (formerly eastern) box turtle as vulnerable, and many states have the species listed in state threatened and endangered species legislation . . .We don’t currently know the exact extent of the decline of box turtles in WV.”

The citizen science projects begin in regional wildlife diversity technical committees where many WVDRN staff members “discuss and identify priority conservation needs, as well as work closely with other Natural Heritage programs and natural resource state agencies to identify the need for citizen science projects or research needs in general.”

“Citizen science projects are typically used to collect large, robust datasets over a large area . . . but are really successful when the target is recognizable by the public—you want to reduce mis-identification where possible,” says Oxenrider.

The data collected from citizens, like you, will help the WVDNR to “better understand the scope of the decline . . . and focus conservation and outreach efforts.”

The data collected from the firefly citizen science project will help “identify hotspots of firefly diversity and also areas where we may need targeted surveys,” as well as gaining insight into flash patterns (number and color of flashes) to help identify species status.

The data collected from the box turtle citizen science project will help “to identify areas for future box turtle monitoring efforts” and “to delineate the range of box turtles in WV, as well as look at densities of reports to better assess species numbers across the state and identify potential hotspots of road mortality.”

While the projects are in the early stages of completion, a couple of observations have already been made.

For the box turtle citizen science project, the reports show that they have received data from most places in West Virginia. For the firefly citizen science project, they are learning “phenology or the timing of species as they arrive across the state, as well as from phone calls and emails [from] areas where citizens used to see many fireflies, but for one reason or another no longer do.”

In order to take small practical steps to preserve these species, Frantz and Oxenrider offer a few things we can do.

To conserve firefly species, Frantz recommends reducing outdoor lighting, which can limit the disruption of firefly reproduction. Also reducing the frequency of mowing a lawn — every two weeks — or leaving one or two unmowed sections of grass, which will create a natural habitat.

To conserve the box turtle species, Oxenrider recommends reporting any collecting and selling of box turtle and other turtle species. Other conservation efforts will be clearer once the project is complete.

At this time, the box turtle project has received thousands of reports, and the firefly project has received hundreds of reports. Frantz and Oxenrider encourage the public to continue reporting any sighting of either of the species.

To report firefly sightings and track them, you can visit wvdnr.gov/fireflies. You can also share photos on social media using the hashtag #lightupWV.

To report eastern box turtle sightings, you can visit tinyurl.com/wvboxturtle.

Heather Hamilton is a freelance reporter for the Princeton Times. Contact her at hmhjournalism91@gmail.com

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