An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

Reptiles

Snapping Turtles & Duckweed

9-14-16-snapping-turtle-20160912_8749Duckweed (Wolfia sp.), a free-floating aquatic plant  that possesses flowers which are said to be the smallest flowers in the world, is coating our mystery creature. The presence of this plant can indicate that there are too many nutrients in the water, especially nitrate and phosphate.  On the plus side, Duckweed provides waterfowl, juvenile fish and other wildlife (including humans in Southeast Asia) with a protein-rich (40%) food.

Under this green coating is a Snapping Turtle, one of the largest freshwater turtles in North America. Most often encountered in June, when females leave their ponds to lay eggs, Snapping Turtles are infrequently observed at other times of the year. This is primarily due to their crepuscular and nocturnal habits as well as their tendency to spend a lot of time under water feeding on plants, insects, fish, frogs, small turtles, young waterfowl, and crayfish.

Found in most ponds, marshes, streams and rivers, Snapping Turtles are not aggressive towards humans. Their size is impressive (a full-grown Snapping Turtle’s top shell, or carapace, can measure up to 20 inches in length) but they shy away from human disturbance. Miniature versions with one-inch long carapaces can be seen this month as the young Snappers crawl up out of their subterranean nests after hatching from eggs laid in June and head for the nearest water.

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Red-eared Sliders

8-4-16   red-eared slider 265If you’re of a certain age, you may remember having a small pet turtle (complete with a plastic container and palm tree) when you were young.  Those turtles were Red-eared Sliders, and so many of them were released or escaped into the wild that they are now considered an invasive species and many countries ban their importation.  Even though it is illegal for hatchlings with a top shell length of less than 4 inches (they can reach 16 inches) to be sold for anything other than educational purposes, many pet stores in the U.S. still sell them.  Wild populations can be found in most of the New England states, though they are very localized in some.

Red-eared Sliders are named for the red ear stripe on both sides of their head, and the fact that when basking they typically slide into the water at the slightest hint of danger.  They are semi-aquatic and strong swimmers; when not basking, they can usually be found in the water.   Like many other species of turtles, the sex of Red-eared Sliders is determined by the incubation temperature during critical phases of the embryos’ development. Males are produced when the incubation temperature is between 72° and 81°F. and females develop at warmer temperatures. (Thanks to Sadie Brown for photo op.)

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Northern Watersnakes Mating

5-26-16  mating water snakes by Sue Elliott DSCN7482Active both day and night, Northern Watersnakes can be found basking near or swimming in ponds, rivers, lakes and marshes in the Northeast.  Late May through June is the peak of their mating season, when they engage in courtship rituals prior to mating.  Initially the male approaches a female side by side and rubs his body against hers, sometimes simultaneously using his chin to rub her head, neck or body.  When they are ready to mate, the male coils his tail around the female’s body and tail in an attempt to align his cloaca (single opening for digestive, reproductive, and urinary tracts) with hers.  Once that is accomplished he inserts one of his two hemipenes (penises) and releases sperm.  Four to six months later she gives birth to between 12 and 60 live snakes, each of which measures between six and twelve inches.  (Thanks and credit go to Sue Wetmore for this remarkable photograph.)

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Snapping Turtles Mating

jim bloc-snappers mating ct156p-snapping-turtles

Although Snapping Turtles may mate any time between April and November, much breeding activity takes place during April and May. Snapping Turtle mating appears fairly aggressive, with the male chasing the female, grasping the posterior end of her carapace and then mounting her.  He holds on to the edges of her shell with all four legs, often biting her head and neck while he inseminates her.

The female Snapping Turtle can keep sperm viable in her body for several  months (and perhaps years).  Thus, there can be multiple paternity in egg clutches and it may even be  possible that a female’s eggs are fertilized in years when she does not mate.  (Thanks to Jim Block for photo.  To see a photo series of Snapping Turtles mating (and many other very fine nature photographs), go to http://www.jimblockphoto.com/2010/04/snapping-turtles/)

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Painted Turtles Basking

3-23-16 painted turtles 033Being an aquatic species, most painted turtles hibernate in the mud at the bottom of ponds. They dig down as far as ten feet where they spend the winter hovering around 43°.  In the spring, when the temperature of the water approaches 60°, painted turtles begin actively foraging, but the first priority upon awakening is to warm up their bodies.  Turtles are ectothermic, or cold-blooded, thus the temperature of their bodies is determined by the  environment that surrounds them.  To be active, painted turtles must maintain an internal temperature of 63°- 73°.  They reach and maintain this temperature by basking in the sun, particularly in the cold, first weeks of spring.  Once warmed up, the turtles will forage, and when they begin to cool off, basking resumes.

Competition for basking sites such as floating logs and rocks can be fierce.  It is not unusual to see many painted turtles lined up on a floating log, or turtles piled one upon the other on a rock in an effort to maximize the effect of the sun’s rays.  The heat they’re obtaining increases their metabolism, aids in digestion and allows males to start producing sperm.  The sun also strengthens their shells and reduces the amount of algae on them, thereby reducing the chances of bacterial or fungal infection.

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Milksnake Eggs Hatching

8-3-15 milk snake IMG_6320Some snakes lay eggs, while others give birth to live young. Milksnakes (which are nonpoisonous) belong to the former group and sometime between April and late June female milksnakes lay 3 to 20 eggs in rotting logs or moist, warm, leaf litter — locations that offer protection from predators and cold weather. Eggs laid in June are now hatching – seven- to ten-inch milksnakes are each using their egg tooth to slice through their egg and enter the world. Newly-hatched milksnakes have especially vibrant colors, including oranges, reds, purples, and yellows, which become duller as they age. Milksnakes are most active during the day but are rarely seen due to their secretive nature. (photo: adult milksnake; insert-newly hatched milksnake)

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Snapping Turtles Laying Eggs

6-8-15  snapping turtle 257Every June female Snapping Turtles leave their ponds to bury their eggs in sandy soil where the eggs will incubate for the next three months without any parental care or supervision. These eggs, as well as those of many other reptiles, experience temperature-dependent sex determination. The temperature of an individual incubating egg during the middle one-third of embryonic development determines whether the developing turtle will be a male or female. Males are generally produced at lower incubation temperatures than females. At temperatures ranging between 72°F. and 80°F., males usually develop, whereas warmer temperatures around 86°F. produce female turtles.

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