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January 9, 2009

ULM biology professor helps British film crew capture bayou's predator

John Carr, a biology professor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, recently guided a British Broadcasting Corp. film crew on a tour of Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The crew had contacted Carr to capture footage of one of the lake’s largest predators, the North American Alligator Snapping Turtle.

“I told them my ability to help them would depend entirely on the weather,” said Carr. Like most reptiles, snapping turtles tend to become dormant as the balmy days of summer fade to brisk fall mornings.

But in spite of the mild November temperatures, Carr and biology graduate student Mitch Ray were able to lead filmmakers to the mother lode – three massive snappers found in the last of several nets. Two of the alligator snappers weighed in at more than 100 pounds – the size of a small child.

“It was incredible,” he said. “I would’ve been surprised to find just a single snapper given the temperature, but to see three in one net, and especially that size, is extremely unusual.”

Another interesting fact is that one of the turtles was among those Mitch had tagged earlier in the year with a transmitter.

Conservationists consider the Alligator Snapping Turtle, or Macrochelys temminckii, a “species of concern.” The species is protected to varying degrees by state laws throughout their range in the southern portions of the U.S. Carr and his students have carefully documented the snapper’s nesting habitat, discovering dozens of nests along a railroad causeway adjoining the lake, and numerous others along forest-field edges and in the forest.

Carr, who earned his doctorate in zoology from Southern Illinois University, said the half-hour BBC segment is scheduled to appear on a program called, “Steve's Deadly 60,” though he hasn’t been notified of the exact date yet. The prehistoric looking creature may have intrigued BBC filmmakers because of its bone-snapping, powerful jaws.

Carr did a similar tour in April 2007 at Black Bayou, when an Icon Films crew documented Carr’s innovative research for "Nick Baker's Weird Creatures 2," a television series created for the Animal Planet that features unique and unusual animals.

“In fact, Steve Backshall (host for “Steve's Deadly 60”) said he was going to have to call and tease Nick about what we were able to find this time around,” said Carr, with a laugh.

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