Posts Tagged 'turtles'

Softshell Mystery

ApoloneI spotted a snouty silhouette in the Lake the other day.ApoloneIt was a turtle of a type I’ve never seen before. The snout suggests some kind of softshell, although the shell doesn’t look so typical for those turtles. I queried Twitter and there were suggestions it’s in the Apolone genus, creatures that live in our South and Midwest. In which case, it would be another victim of the PPT (Pernicious Pet Trade) and the irresponsible consumer who dumped it here. Another suggestion was that it’s the Chinese softshell, P. sinesis, perhaps originating in a Chinatown fish market. But the eyes seem like they are in the wrong place for that. So it remains a mystery… your Testudinal expertise is welcome. The length of this critter is 6-7″. ApaloneSoftshells get their name from their shells, which are unlike the hard bony cases of the turtles we’re more familiar with up here. The face, with its pyramidal snout, is obviously different, too. And on this specimen, the claws are almost fully webbed so that they look more like paddles than feet.

The Morning Rush

rush hourNot exactly going anywhere at the moment.

Uh-oh

uo-ohIs this going to end like Bambi Meets Godzilla? (Click on the image if you have a tiny screen for the full nailed-claw effect.)

Well, probably not, as this is the turtle’s back leg and the reptile may not even be aware of the Pondhawk’s presence. And while Pondhawks are certainly serious contenders in their weight class….

Slider

Trachemys scripta elegans A Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) in the freshwater gardens on Pier One. There were two last year. Did this one survive the damage done by Sandy or is it yet another illegal introduction? A species of the Southeast, RES fill our fresh waters because of the pet trade, irresponsible pet owners, and an unfortunate Buddhist ritual of releasing turtles for good luck and whatnot. Here’s more detail about that, and about getting a Chinatown temple not to dump turtles to sure death in the East River.

Lil’ Snapper

A baby Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) has the unfortunate characteristic of blending in quite well with a road. South Cross Road, in Bradford, Mass., to be exact. While in the area last week, I saw several Painted turtles and a few others I could not identify who didn’t make it across that road and other death strips. This little one, though, had a helper… your friendly blogger.Remember, if helping a turtle across a road, move it in the direction it is heading. Given several decades of staying off the roads and out of a Great Blue Heron’s gullet, this guy might become one of the giants.Snappers have small plastrons, or bottom shells, compared to our other turtles. What they lack in protective defense, then, they make up with strong jaws at the end of a long neck (note that species name serpentina, like a snake) as well as sharp claws.

And check out the tiny freshwater clam hitching a ride there at the shoulder. There’s never a malacologist around when I need one.

C. serpentina

Over the weekend, I saw three big Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina) in Green-Wood Cemetery. This is the time of year they emerge from the murk of ponds and lakes to reproduce, the female often travelling long distances to find soft earth, dirt, or fine gravel in which to bury her clutch of eggs. Unlike in most turtle species, male Snappers are actually larger than the females.Growing to platter-sized, these animals can live nearly five decades in captivity, but the rigors of the wild reduce that to about 30 years. One problem is that the type of ground they dig their nests in is now often found on driveways and dirt roads, hazardous both because cars can crush the animals and destroy the nests through compaction. Also, they must cross paved roads to find these places. Here’s a video on how to help a Snapper cross the road (don’t pick it up by the tail). Snappers have spread into Europe through the pet trade. A 44-pounder was captured in a canal near Rome last year. As with the other turtles, mortality is very high; few of their young survive to adulthood, but some old vets live long and deep. Baby snappers, especially in their northern range, will hatch in September and October, but stay in the nest through the winter, only emerging the following spring, when they make their sometimes long, instinctive journey towards water. Other species follow the same strategy: remember the baby Painted Turtle I found one early spring on Nantucket?The Snapper’s common and species name serpentina both allude to their strong jaws and long necks. They have a surprisingly small plastron, or bottom shell, and can’t retreat into their shell like other turtle species, so their best defense is a strong offense. Their claws are also formidable, about an inch long in this case. They are turned up here because this animal has its feet pointing backwards. Snappers have a fearsome reputation, more hype than reality in my experience, but can be aggressive in response to interference. I mean, if you lose your finger because you poke one, don’t blame the turtle. So, as with all wild things, you shouldn’t approach too closely and you shouldn’t touch (unless you’re helping it off a road).The other two snappers, which looked just as big, were in the water. Note those little nostrils at the very tip of the face; they can stick just the tip of their snout above water to breath, and you probably wouldn’t notice them at all. The animals in the water seemed as curious about me as I was about them.

Turtles have been around for some 215 million years. They are older than their fellow reptiles the lizards, snakes, and crocodiles. A Snapper in particular, lifting its shell high, spiky tail dragging behind, has a dinosaurish look to it when it walks.

While wondering around the cemetery thinking about turtles, it dawned on me that the readiest source of earth there for a nest was a freshly dug grave.

Prospect Park has Snappers, too.

Life Aquatic

The fresh water ponds at Brooklyn Bridge Park were jumping with life in yesterday’s June-like weather. Bathing and drinking birds included Barn Swallows, recently returned north, Common Grackles, American Robins, Northern Mockingbirds, European Starlings, and House Sparrows, lots of House Sparrows. Water is very important for birds, and it’s been a very dry spring, so like an oasis in the desert, the water here pulls them in.

Look closer. There were tiny fish in the water:How did these fish get here, into a human-created pond that was first filled with water only two years ago? There are now a least three Red-eared sliders:But you know where they came from: the pet shop, via some irresponsible owners.

One of the first dragonflies to appear in this part of the world is the three-inch-long Green Darner. It is also one of the last we see in the fall. Some populations are migratory, traveling up and down the coast. Yes, a migratory insect. This female is laying her eggs on the underside of this floating reed remnant: A perfect example of how important natural “litter” like this is to an ecosystem.

The ponds and stream system at Pier One are small and intimate. Things are concentrated there, and make for a excellent spot to observe dragonflies.

Prospect Park

It’s warm enough for turtles to be basking on the Lake, Lullwater, and Pools. Not many, but a smattering were to be seen soaking in the sun along the water course.On a birch, this cocoon is more seasonally appropriate, weathering the not very weathery winter. While I’ve been seeing flies all month already, this was the first day I noticed clouds of hovering insects (some other kind of Diptera, I suspect).Mallard, Northern Shoveler, American Coot, and at least one turtle enjoy this downed tree. Recently, some of the freelance defenders of the park alerted the media to the plethora of snags in the water after a major cutting and pruning operation. But snags are important components of the habitat of, at minimum, bird, reptile, and fish life. A classic duck/shorebird pose: bill tucked away back under a wing and balancing on one leg. This is a female Mallard. At least one tree is getting that fuzzy look. This American Elm is just starting to bud. Its branches were too high for me to reach. The tree right next to it, a fellow elm, drooped to eye-level, but was not nearly as far advanced, perhaps because it doesn’t get as much sun:.

Don’t Dump Your Turtle

One of the search phrases that’s led people to this blog more than once is about “releasing pet turtles in Prospect Park.” People want to know if it’s OK to do so. The answer is: no, it isn’t, and you shouldn’t ~ which is what I hope they learned from the internet.

But, considering that I counted over seventy Red-eared Sliders in the Lullwater in November, the practice certainly continues. The Japanese Pond in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is another dumping zone for Brooklyn pet-owners.The Red-eared Slider is the common pet trade turtle, often sold in itty-bitty, evidently irresistible (and, if under 4″, plainly illegal) form. But of course, if the animal is lucky — although plenty of them die young — it grows bigger and bigger and bigger. A female can get to be the size of a large dinner plate, the males nearly that big. A native of the southeastern U.S., these sliders have become invasive in our region through releases from people who didn’t realize how big they could get, could no longer afford the increasing care costs (a very large tank is necessary for a plate-sized turtle), got bored with it, or otherwise outgrow it themselves (children are obviously cute-baited by the trade). Besides out-competing native species like the Painted Turtle, every release is a potential biological hazard, since it could introduce disease(s) to local turtle populations.

You are doing no good to the animal or the habitat by releasing it. Instead, search out adoption agencies like Turtle Rescue of Long Island. The mistake was the initial acquisition, so hopefully now, in making emends, you’ll be an evangelist for NOT BUYING TURTLES AS PETS. Let wild animals be.

I’ve seen them for sale on the sidewalk, and not only in Chinatowns. Brisk business was being gone right by Brooklyn Borough Hall not so long ago (no doubt the hucksters made a contribution to the Borough President’s “favorite charity,” wink, wink). Some years ago, I met some people who found a baby turtle in their table centerpiece at a wedding reception (every table had one, it was part of the design; the florist should have been flogged).

If you see something related to wildlife that you think is illegal, for instance the sale of any reptile or amphibian species native to New York State, or any turtles under 4″ being sold on the street, you can call the state’s hot line: 1-800-847-7332 to report it. I wish I’d known this when I saw those schmucks selling them on Court Street.

Possessing any one of the dozen species of native turtles in New York State is illegal.

Check out the NY Turtle and Tortoise Society for additional news, views, etc.

All my turtle posts are here: painted, snappers, diamondbacks, etc., in the wild, where they belong.

Diamondback Terrapin female, Jamaica Bay

Springtime in November

It was like spring in Prospect Park today. Late spring, even, except for the rich fall colors of the leaves and the lack of birdsong. How warm was it? There was a woman wearing a bikini in Nelly’s Lawn.

Among other sun-worshippers were the turtles, brought up out of the murk by the warmth.A few of the approximately 75 (!) turtles I counted basking in the Lullwater between the Terrace and the Lullwater Bridges. Most were Red-eared Sliders (a search noted by this blog recently was “Can I release my turtle in Prospect Park?” NO!), but there were at several Painted Turtles as well. And then there was this little guy:I thought at first it might be a musk turtle, first reported by City Birder Rob Jett in May, because of its smallness and high-domed shell, but I don’t think so after reviewing the situation. I’m sorry the picture isn’t very good, but binoculars focusing in on the critter didn’t help much either.

Continuing the unseasonal sightings: a host of Green Darners were buzzing around the little hillside meadow in front of the the Maryland Monument. Along the Lullwater, I found of few of these meadowhawks: “The red meadowhawks [genus Sympetrum] of North America present an intractable field problem,” notes the Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies, so I think we’ll leave it at that.


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