“He doesn’t look happy.”
Not surprising that Dude/He doesn’t look happy. He’s being pulled out of a net in the Tennessee River specifically set up to capture him.
Dude/He is a turtle.
On a recent afternoon, several turtles were pulled from nets placed in the river by Dr. Thomas Wilson, UC Foundation professor in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Department of Biology, Geology and Environmental Science, and graduate student Bri Millican.
As part of the Environmental Science Survey Methods course, students spent an afternoon in chest-high waders, walking in and out of the river to check nets placed in several locations, then taking any turtles they found back to the riverbank.
Once there, Wilson held the reptiles in his hands and talked about them—whether they’re male or female and how to tell, explaining their general habits, measuring them and pointing out specific things to check on their shells—before returning them to the river.
“The idea behind this is I try to approach this class from a practitioner standpoint,” Wilson said. “I’m just showing them what the various tools and various options are for measuring environmental and biological phenomena at the ecological scale.
“A lot of them will go on to graduate school and now have some exposure to these techniques and ideas for implementing on some of their projects, or they may go directly in the workforce—and they will not have to have the methods explained to them because they will be somewhat familiar with them by concept.
“So it’s really just teaching them to survey the Earth.”
All the turtles found during the class excursion were sliders, the kind often seen sunning themselves on logs and sliding into the water when humans get too close. Most were about the size of a dinner plate or smaller.
Millican, pursuing a master’s degree in environmental science, noted that, while the turtles could be taken back to a lab at UTC for examination, an analysis in the wild is more practical and safer.
Senior environmental science major Lauren Hull said she hopes for a career in the U.S. National Parks Service. The Environmental Science Survey Methods class helps provide a foundation for that plan.
“I’m happy to get some experience in case this is anything I ever work with later in my career, so I have some hands-on experience with this sort of thing,” said Hull, a Ringgold (Georgia) High School graduate.
Hands-on experience is valuable, Wilson warned the students, but be careful where you put those hands when holding sliders. They’re not snapping turtles—which can take off a finger—but “they’ll pop you good,” Wilson said.
“I had a student who got one too close to his forearm and he got popped,” Wilson recalled. “I think he cried.”