Behind the Scenes: Attaching a Radio Transmitter to a Snapping Turtle

Ever wondered what it’s like to attach a radio transmitter to a Snapping Turtle? Allow us to show you through this series of captioned photos. All photos were generously provided by Cathy Hamel.

First, we need to find a turtle. Lucky for us, this lovely female Snapping Turtle just finished laying eggs, making her easy to spot. All we had to do was sit and wait until she left her nest.

Once we have the turtle’s attention, the best thing is to offer it a stick. This will encourage it to snatch the pointy thing in front of its face instead of reaching around and biting our hands as we persuade it into a clean pillowcase.

This lady didn’t find the stick very enticing, so Daria resorts to the Wheelbarrow maneuver.

We carefully place the turtle inside the clean pillowcase. The pillowcase helps reduce stress throughout the whole process.

With the turtle safely covered, the next step is to clear a space on the back of the turtle’s shell to place the radio transmitter. We do this by removing any buildup of algae and dirt.

We want to make sure that the cleared space is big enough, so that the transmitter will sit nicely. We also want to position the transmitter so that the antenna is pointing backwards and won't interfere with the turtle's movements.

We don’t want the transmitter to fall off, so we apply a good amount of crazy glue where the transmitter will be attached.

Hold in place to dry, which may take a while.

Now is a good time to take some measurements for your research or monitoring purposes while we wait for the glue to dry. Here Rebecca is measuring the shell width.

Now the shell length.

The glue has finally set. “Look mom, no hands!”

We then apply epoxy to smooth out the connection, which allows the turtle to trudge through mud and sticks without knocking off the transmitter.

More epoxy…                  …a little bit more…               …enough so that the transmitter is fully secured.

Next, we flip her on her back to check for leeches and to take some more measurements...

Now we place the pillowcase on a hanging scale to check her weight.

Before we send the turtle on her way, Daria makes a little notch in the back of the turtle’s shell, so that we know we’ve had the pleasure of her company before. This does not hurt the turtle. Rebecca distracts her with the slowest game of fetch ever!

Our work is complete, and she is free from the pillowcase at last - look at that smile!

This is where we part ways and say goodbye (for now)!