Volume 3 • Issue 5 • May 2009

Alligator Snapping Turtles

Can They be Re-introduced?

Commonly confused with the common snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina ,which is found throughout Oklahoma, the alligator snapping turtle, Macrochelys temminckii, is restricted to portions of the Arkansas River and Red River watersheds in the eastern quarter of the state. Unlike the common snapping turtle, the alligator snapping turtle spends its whole life in a small area with females only leaving the water to lay eggs which minimizes its dispersal capability.

Due to several man-made causes such as commercial harvest for their meat and destruction of habitat, the populations of alligator snapping turtles have steadily declined over the past century. An effort to develop a program to restock populations in watersheds is currently being considered. Two captive populations of turtles exist in Oklahoma that could be used as brood stock for this type of project. A private breeder in Perry has a stock of alligator snappers from Missouri. Additionally, the Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery houses captive-bred Oklahoma turtles.

This is just one of the alligator snapping turtles that were genetically tested by Oklahoma State University at the Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery.
Oklahoma State University conducted a study to test if potential negative impacts exist in restocking this species if genetic differences exist between river drainages. Alligator snapping turtles were captured from tributaries occurring in Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge, Little River NWR, the Kiamichi River, and the area around Lake Eufaula. Captured individuals were marked and a sample of blood samples was collected from which DNA was extracted. Additionally, DNA was extracted from blood samples collected from individuals in the populations at the Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery and the captive populations in Perry.

Results showed there was a lack of genetic variation among native turtles and captive alligator snapping turtles. Therefore, with a proper management and restocking plan, the two captive populations would make good sources for reintroduction throughout Oklahoma which could help ensure this unique turtle’s survival.

For more information about State Wildlife Grants in Oklahoma log on to wildlifedepartment.com.

Written by Buck Ray. Buck is the environmental biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

This project is funded by the State Wildlife Grant Program. The State Wildlife Grant Program provides federal money to every state and territory for cost-effective conservation aimed at preventing wildlife from becoming endangered. This program is administered by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and continues the long history of cooperation between the federal government and the states for managing and conserving wildlife species. For more information, visit www.teaming.com.

Deep Fork Wildlife Management Area

Along the Canadian River

As its name implies, the Deep Fork Wildlife Management Area lies along the Deep Fork of the Canadian River and encompasses nearly 12,000 acres in half a dozen tracts in southern Creek and northern Okfuskee counties.  The cornerstone of the Deep Fork WMA is the conservation of bottomland hardwood forest, river oxbows and sloughs.  These wetlands and seasonally flooded forests of shumard oak, bur oak, pecan, sugarberry and green ash are important to waterfowl such as wintering mallard, green-winged teal, northern shoveler and ring-necked duck and to nesting populations of wood duck.  They also are important to a wide range of other birds including the prothonotary warbler, pileated woodpecker, yellow-crowned night heron and white-eyed vireo.

Three-toed box turtles can often be seen at Deep Fork WMA.
But the Deep Fork WMA is not comprised solely of bottomland forest; the area also encompasses upland cross timbers woodlands of post oak and black hickory, native tallgrass prairies and shrubby old-field habitats.  The wildlife of the WMA is just as varied as its habitats.

Common mammals include gray and fox squirrels, raccoons, bobcats, swamp rabbits, nine-banded armadillos and white-tailed deer. Secretive river otters occur along the Deep Fork River but are rarely seen. The reptile and amphibian community includes gray tree frogs, small-mouthed salamanders, green frogs, three-toed box turtles, five-lined skinks, glass lizards, speckled king snakes, rough earth snakes, and copperheads. The indigo bunting, summer tanager, tufted titmouse and Carolina wren are common songbirds throughout, while the yellow-breasted chat, Kentucky warbler and northern parula can be found in thickets and mature forest near the river.

Hunting opportunities abound at Deep Fork WMA. White-tailed deer, bobwhite quail, Rio Grande turkey, fox and gray squirrel and multiple species of waterfowl are present in good numbers. There are also cottontail and swamp rabbit, coyote, bobcat, raccoon and dove on the WMA.

With the Deep Fork of the Canadian River flowing through the WMA, there are great opportunities for fishing. Both flathead and channel catfish are present in good numbers. The river provides habitat for crappie, white bass and largemouth bass as well.

The Deep Fork WMA does not have camping facilities but it does contain numerous trails and short access roads that make it a great place for day trips.  Several other public lands occur in close proximity to the Deep Fork WMA and a visit there can easily be combined with a visit to Okmulgee Wildlife Management Area, the Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge or Dripping Springs State Park and Lake.

For more information about Deep Fork WMA, please contact Bruce Burton at (918) 759-1816 or log on to wildlifedepartment.com.

Written by Mark Howery. Mark is a wildlife diversity biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

The Bats Are Back In Town!

Discover a Far-From-Ordinary Summer Adventure in Northwest Oklahoma

As the days warm up, thoughts turn towards vacation.  The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation would like to invite you to consider a trip to watch over one million bats flying out into the evening sky near Alabaster Caverns State Park during mid-summer.  The popular Selman Bat Watches have been providing visitors a chance to see this “jaw-dropping spectacle” since 1997.  Visitors have traveled from 13 other states and 4 other countries to watch streams of Mexican free-tailed bats fill the evening sky as they relax in a prairie surrounded by beautiful gypsum bluffs. 

This year the bat watches will take place the last 4 weekends in July which includes the first Saturday in August.  The cost is $10 for adults and $5 for children (12 & under).  Pre-registration is required during a specified registration period which begins June 1st and ends June 12th.  To pre-register, print off the registration form from our website:  www.watchbats.com beginning June 1st.  Registration is by mail only. Mail the completed form with payment (check or money order) as soon after the registration period begins as possible.  Because dates fill up quickly consider providing at least two preferred dates to attend.  Much more information and details about the Selman Bat Watch can be found on the website.  Successful registrants will receive a confirmation packet by mail.  Payment will be returned to those who pre-register for closed evenings.

Note:  Our e-newsletter will continue to remind you to register to attend a Selman Bat Watch!

Written by Melynda Hickman. Melynda is a wildlife diversity biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Our Mission:

The WILDLIFE DIVERSITY PROGRAM monitors and manages the state's wildlife and fish species that are not hunted or fished.