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Student Research Projects

Freshwater turtle use of vomeronasal system while foraging

Student Coleman, Sherie, '17
Faculty Mentor(s)
Department Biology
Course BIO 489: Research in Natural Sciences


Semi-aquatic turtle species such as the painted turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii) transit and forage in bodies of freshwater where water quality oftentimes impairs submerged visual acuity (Mason, 1992; Mu�oz, 2004; Polo-Cavia et al., 2009). In these types of environments, it leads to question, if, and how these species locate foodstuff while submerged. Prior research suggests turtles use chemical stimuli as cues for behavioral responses (Mu�oz, 2004). Potential benefits of underwater chemical reception, and the fact that painted turtles have a large number of functional olfactory receptor (OR) genes (Vieyra, 2011), should support a significant dependence on olfaction while foraging underwater. To understand the extent to which these reptiles rely on subsurface olfaction, chemoreception trials were conducted in a darkened experimental tank. As a chemical cue, spot (Leiostomus xanthurus), a locally available fish, was placed on one side of a divided tank, and as the control, a similarly sized pebble was placed on the opposite side of the divider. While test results varied between test subject LT-01 and LT-05, both responded at the level of chance (51% and 54% correct respectively). These data do not support the hypothesis that turtles are detecting olfactory cues underwater.


Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (VFIC), summer 2016