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Spring on the York College campus

Saving Red-Bellied Turtles

By Colleen Karl
“After she lays her eggs, the female will pee on the nest to mask the scent.”
Red Bellied Turtles

This summer, Jessica Nolan, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biology, along with student, Reilly Kobus ’19 (York, PA), a Biology major, organized a research project on red-bellied turtles at Lake Marburg in Codorus State Park. The species is threatened in the state of Pennsylvania and find their home in the park dwindling. Nolan and Kobus located 15 turtles and installed transmitters to the shells of six adults (four female, two male) so they may track them and study their habits.

They tracked them through mating season and plan to keep researching them through the nesting season so they may help keep an eye on the eggs. They believe the turtles are struggling against environmental factors including nests being dug up and eggs eaten by raccoons or foxes, run over by cars as they attempt to cross a road, and hit by boat motors. “After she lays her eggs, the female will pee on the nest to mask the scent,” said Reilly. During the summer months, vegetation growth makes it difficult for turtles to dive quickly as boats approach.

Nolan and Kobus presented three sessions at the Codorus Blast Festival, In The Park, in June to the public to ask for help sighting turtles. The locals are key, they say, to their research as they know the area and are around the lake more. Nolan has been working with the park for the past 10 years and said this year, 15 was the most she ever caught — the largest being 31 inches and the smallest being the size of her palm.

The ladies spoke about what to do when coming across a turtle; especially if the turtle is attempting to cross the road and only when it is safe to do so, stop to pick it up and move it to the other side in the direction the turtle was headed. If you take it back to where it came from, it would continue to cross the road as before. By instinct, turtles return to the same place of nesting each year and sometimes that requires crossing a busy highway.

Nolan and Kobus need the public’s help to keep track of the turtles. If you are local to the Codorus State Park area and see a red-bellied turtle, please contact Nolan at Please take a picture and include information about where the turtle was located.

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