Thursday, May 31, 2012

Turtle News and the Red Admirals produce young

A large Snapping Turtle emerges from the water to lay her eggs
The Painted Turtle that was rescued from the road
This tends to be a dangerous time of year for turtles and especially for female turtles as they set out to find places to lay their eggs. They often will gravitate to gravely roadsides where they can more easily dig a hole for laying into. This habit can get them into trouble as the slow moving animals try their luck at crossing roads and highways. Their shells, which stand up well against most predators, unfortunately, can’t withstand being run over by a car.

When I left the nature preserve the other day, I saw what I thought was a parcel laying in the middle of the road. As I got closer, I could see that it was a medium sized Painted Turtle. There was too much traffic behind me to stop right away. At my earliest opportunity, I turned around and came back. I pulled over, and made my way toward the turtle, which was still near the center of the road. Oblivious to the reptile and even to my gestures to slow down, the other drivers continued speeding by –each passing only inches away from the turtle. As each car went by the turtle would retract its head into its shell. With great relief, I was able to collect the animal before it became flattened. I took her back to the preserve, where, ten minutes later, she was swimming in one of our ponds.
The released Painted Turtle swims in one of our ponds

Last week, at the Utica Marsh, I saw several Snapping Turtles laying eggs. Instead of choosing a roadside to excavate in, here they dig their holes in the gravel of the railway beds that cross the Marsh. As I approached the tracks, one large female was doing just that. The back half of her shell was covered in fresh mud and she also had some duckweed and other bits of vegetation clinging to her body. With her large hind feet, she had just dug out a pit in the gravel, and was remaining in that position to begin laying eggs. When she’s done laying, she will bury the eggs and there her parental duty will end. Raccoons are experts in located this kind of buried treasure, and so most of the Snapping Turtles offspring will not make it to the time of hatching.
The Snapper, digging out a trench with her back feet
Several years ago, one of my coworkers at Spring Farm picked up a tiny Snapping Turtle as it was crossing the road. Apparently, it had just hatched from its roadside bed, and had begun the first, and possibly one of the most treacherous journeys of its life. I named that little turtle “Gamera” and we released it at one of the wetland areas at the nature preserve. 
"Gamera", the recently hatched Snapping Turtle

At another preserve, managed by some friends, several large Snapping Turtles share the habitat with a beaver colony –which is not such an unusual situation. Apparently, Snappers are great coinsurers of apples, and when my friends give apples to their beavers, one of the turtles gets in line for his share. The beavers aren’t always overjoyed at the prospect of a reptile muscling in on their snack time.

This Snapper is emerging  in search of apples
Occasionally the beavers will take a Snapper by its shell and move it to another place in the pond. That of course, can be a potentially dangerous thing to do, but the beavers surprisingly show little concern for the turtle’s formidable beak.

Red Admiral Butterfly
The Red Admiral caterpillar uses silk to tie together its host plant's leaves
What happened to all of those Red Admiral Butterflies? Well, some of them are still fluttering through the area, but the larger portion of them continued pressing north and out of our region. They did leave behind tangible signs of their visit, in the form of their offspring. A close inspection of the Stinging Nettle plants that grow in our forest reveal dozens of the little guys chewing away on the leaves. In order to feed with some degree of safety from predators, the Red Admiral caterpillar attaches strands of silk to the edges of a leaf and cinches the sides together, thus making a protective tent for itself. 
Red Admiral Caterpillar feeds in relative safety in the tied up leaf 
 I noticed that in a few cases, there were leaves that caterpillars had rolled over, but instead of the caterpillar inside there was a spider. Whether or not the spider had killed the caterpillar before commandeering its house, I couldn’t be sure of.

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