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Damage to a turtle’s shell can provide evidence of past events such as vehicle collisions, disease, predator encounters, or even a behavioural interaction between members of the same species. Documenting shell damage as part of long-term mark and recapture studies enables researchers to determine population trends, intraspecific interactions and identify potential issues within turtle populations. This paper analyses shell damage in populations of the Loggerhead Musk Turtle (Sternotherus minor) (Agassiz, 1857). We examined carapace shell damage frequency and severity in 2701 individual S. minor (1468 males and 1233 females) captured in spring-fed habitats in one state preserve and five state parks in central and northern Florida. We quantified frequency as percent of individuals with at least some damage, and we created a carapace mutilation index (CMI) to quantify the severity of damage. The frequency and severity of carapace damage varied among sites. Males were more frequently damaged than females at all study sites, and had more severe damage, but only significantly at three sites. There was a positive relationship between CMI and body size (plastron length) for males and for females, suggesting that adults accumulate damage as they age. Damage may vary among sites due to habitat size, quality, or abundance of large adult male turtles. Future research should look at movement patterns, site fidelity, social interactions, and how these are impacted by habitat size, quality, and density, to determine what, if any, these factors have on population stability and fecundity.

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Herpetology Notes, 16, 2023, 115–125.



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