Playing with Turtles

So, fun story. It’s been a couple weeks since the first frost here, so most turtles were already holed up and waiting for warmer weather. But then something happened.

We had a 5.6 magnitude earthquake this weekend with the epicenter only 40 miles away. I’ve been through earthquakes before as a child, but it’s not something I’ve come to expect from where we live. Blizzards? Sure! Record heat? Yeah! Tornadoes? All the time! Hurricanes and high winds? Yeah, we get those, too! But… earthquakes? Most people don’t realize that the central United States contains a fault line that has been increasingly active the last several years. For all I know, it may even explain all the weather anomalies our region experiences on a yearly basis.

So, back to the fun stuff. The next day, the other half and I rode our bikes to the lake to explore a new area that had been cleared (more on that area later). On our way there, we saw more turtles on land and in the water than we’d seen at any time this summer.

I can’t find any peer-reviewed literature saying that turtles definitively come out of hibernation prior to or due to earthquakes, but there is a lot of anecdotal evidence. I wonder how it will affect the population next year, or how increased seismic activity effects changes in turtle populations and hibernation habits over time.

Okay, you probably don’t care about that. How about this?

This pretty girl looks like a western chicken turtle (Deirochelys reticularia miaria), which is supported by the black outline on her plastron scutes. The plastron is the underside of the turtle’s shell, while the carapace is the top side.

While we’re not entirely sure that she’s a chicken turtle, since they aren’t necessarily common in our area, we do know that’s she’s not a cooter (Pseudemys spp.). Cooters are known for two different characteristics: a ‘C’ shaped marking along the sides of the shell, and an inverted yellow ‘Y’ under their chin.

I guess it’s time to introduce you to another member of the family, Pip. This is a little cooter my dad hooked while fishing 6 years ago. He thought it was going to die, as he was only silver dollar size and was bleeding from the hook wound, but he brought it home just in case. He actually survived and became my sister’s graduation present, which I inherited when she moved out of the house.

Fun fact: male cooters and sliders get those really long nails as secondary sexual characteristics. They flutter them in the face of the females when they’re courting them.

(Also, yes, I know, he’s got some pyramiding to his shell. Because of our building agreement, we cannot bring his huge tank up here, so he stays with my parents, which means we can’t supervise his diet directly.) What’s pyramiding, you ask? It’s the raised bumps on his shell (compare Pip to the turtle we found) that are caused by either too much protein in the diet (the case for Pip), not enough Vitamin A due to a lack of adequate basking area, or an improper Calcium to Phosphorus ratio. In a nutshell, there’s a lot that can go wrong with diets for any animal, especially those that are prepared fresh. Be glad that cat and dog diets come as convenient kibble or canned food.

Soapbox portion of the post: You shouldn’t handle wild animals without proper training/experience. For instance, the turtle up top was sneakily trying to bite me as I moved her off the road. Just because they don’t have sharp teeth doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. Also, because we own reptiles at home, we have to be extra careful to wash our hands and equipment before we handle anything that could contact our pets. One last point: before taking any wild animals home, make sure the laws in your state allow you to do so. If Pip had been a map turtle (or even a chicken turtle), they can only be collected during certain times of the year, and it is illegal to sell them.

Coincidentally enough, we had another earthquake while writing this post. I wonder how many more turtles will be awakened tomorrow..


3 responses to “Playing with Turtles

  1. Really interesting! I once tried to help a large turtle across the street, picking it up carefully, when it whipped its head around so fast and with such strength that I nearly dropped it as it tried mightily to bite me. It was a Snapping Turtle, as I soon deduced, and after peeing all over me, the thankless fellow (or gal?) ambled off, safely on the other side of the road, towards a nice swampy area. I realized later that a pair of Mallards had brought their ducklings through that little patch – I’m sure my refugee had a nice meal somewhere along the line. Well, everyone’s got to eat, right?!
    Thanks for the great posts!!

    • Thanks for visiting! I should probably have put something about holding them downwind just in case. ;). I had a scholarship interview one day when I learned how large their bladders are. Also, good job not getting bit by a snapper! My dad used to have several; they can be pretty friendly, but only when they want to.

  2. I love turtles, too! Many rescues this summer, but only snappers and painted. Supposedly there are some Blandings around, but I have only seen one of those at the local nature center. I’m in MN, BTW.

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