The year is 1974. Powdermill founder and Carnegie Museum of Natural History Director Dr. Graham Netting measures and marks a female box turtle found on the reserve and releases her. He estimates her age to be at least 16 years old. One wonders if he had any idea that during the 45 years since, Powdermill staff would continue to find her, alive and well.
We had the pleasure of encountering box turtle 22, as she is known, on August 29. The number etched into her bottom shell is still readily visible all these years later. She was last seen 8 years ago in 2011, and again 8 years before that, in 2003. In all, she has been recaptured 15 times since 1974! For a 61-year-old (at least), she is looking good and is as close to her 16-year-old weight as we’ve ever seen. Box turtles are known to live for over 100 years in captivity, but often much less in the wild due to predation and disease. Males typically travel more than females, covering distances of up to 10 km in 14 months!
Field stations like Powdermill are so valuable to biologists because of the knowledge that can be gained from these long-term datasets. Perhaps it will be another 8 years until we see her again, and who knows how many more decades she will continue to roam the forests of the reserve. After all, with an approximate birth year of 1958, she is about as old as Powdermill itself (founded in 1956).
Andrea Kautz is a Research Entomologist at Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Powdermill Nature Reserve. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.