Prevalence of Ingested Fish Hooks in Freshwater Turtles from Five Rivers in the Southeastern United States
Freshwater turtles may ingest baited fish hooks because many are opportunistic scavengers. Although the ingestion of fish hooks is known to be a source of mortality in multiple vertebrate groups, the prevalence of hook ingestion by freshwater turtles has not been well studied. We trapped turtles from five rivers in the southeastern United States and used radiographs to examine over 600 individuals of four species. Depending on the species, sex, and age class, 0–33% of turtles contained ingested fish hooks. For some species, larger turtles were more likely to contain a fish hook than smaller individuals. Freshwater turtle demography suggests that even small increases in adult mortality may lead to population declines. If our study areas are representative of other aquatic systems that receive fishing pressure, this work likely identifies a potential conflict between a widespread, common recreational activity (i.e., fishing) and an imperiled taxonomic group.