An Eagle Bluffs biologist has a soft spot for some tough turtles

Vic Bogosian is undertaking an ambitious project to assess the turtle population at Eagle Bluffs

Everything about turtles interests wildlife biologist Vic Bogosian. So when he came to Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area, he immediately saw an opportunity to follow his passion: working with and helping turtles.

Harvesting turtles for their meat and eggs was once a common practice in Missouri but has become less widespread. Nonetheless, some turtle populations have yet to fully recover. Bogosian aims to estimate the aquatic turtle population of Eagle Bluffs at least every month between April and September to assess how the conservation area’s management is impacting them.

But Bogosian isn’t the only one who is turtle-crazy. In May, at least 75 volunteers attended his monthly turtle collection event, where the group sets up hoop traps baited with Asian carp and leaves them overnight, then counts, marks and releases the turtles. The number of turtles the group recaptures each month allows Bogosian to estimate the area’s turtle population. Bogosian and his team typically catch between 200 and 300 turtles from several aquatic species: red-eared sliders, common snapping turtles, false map turtles, painted turtles and, occasionally, spiny softshell turtles.

As a turtle-lover, Bogosian has picked up on the creatures’ quirks, humor and surprising resilience.

When did you develop an interest in turtles?

When I was a kid, I found a baby turtle in the gutter outside my house in Illinois. It was the size of a half-dollar. I kept it in a bucket with water, and I fed it lettuce. I kept it for a dozen years, so I’ve been interested in turtles for a really long time. They’re my favorite animal.

What obstacles have you run into while you’re trying to catch turtles or research them?

The biggest obstacle is time and trying to do everything we want to do in an eight- to nine-hour day. Most of our people who come out and help us are volunteers, so they really aren’t looking to spend 12 hours in the hot sun up to their waist in muddy wetland water. And we learned the hard way that we can’t leave the turtles in the shop building. Came in the next morning, and there were turtles crawling all over because they got out of the containers. I found a turtle in the building a week after the turtle jailbreak.

What’s the most unusual incident you’ve experienced in your research?

You find them in really strange places sometimes. You’ll find a big old female red-eared slider out in the middle of a hay field, and you’re kind of wondering why it’s here. They do wander. And then there are ones with shell wounds; there’s one that looks like it’s got a sharp bony ridge sticking up out of the middle of its back. I’ve caught that turtle three different times now over a three-year period. I have no idea what would’ve happened to make that pattern on the shell, but turtles are pretty impressive with the things they can live through.

What’s your favorite turtle species?

I’m pretty partial to the alligator snappers. I did my master’s research on them — we were interested in how the animals moved around and the habitat they used. When I was kid, we used to go down to the Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, Mo., and they (still) have a 170-pound alligator snapping turtle there. I just thought it was such a cool animal.

Do you have a favorite turtle joke?

Two snails are walking, and one snail gets stepped on by a turtle. The snail police come and ask the other one what happened, and he says: “I don’t know. It all happened so fast!”