Episode 39 Turtles
>> Hey there and welcome back to Nature Boost, I'm Jill Pritchard with the Missouri Department of Conservation. Alright. So in February, we spoke with herpetologist JEff Briggler about how reptiles and amphibians survive in the winter. This episode builds on that.
During the spring season, our reptilian and amphibian friends are kind of doing what we humans are doing. Coming out of our homes, stretching our legs, breathing in that sweet spring air and soaking up as much sunlight as we can in between all of the rain, of course. As they emerge, one reptile is very common on the roads. Missouri's turtles.
Common species you will see on the road include: the three toed box turtle, ornate box turtle, and sometimes even snapping turtles. They are emerging from their dens. Males are in search of food and a mate. The females will soon be looking for a place to lay their eggs. They can often spend years in the same plot of ground.
But did you know they can wander great distances? Biologists have used tracking devices in the past to follow turtles. In one case, a turtle crossed roads, fields, back yards, swam a creek, and burrowed under a fence. When biologists ultimately stopped following him, the turtle had traveled more than six miles.
As we have discussed, turtles are ectothermic animals or cold blooded, meaning they depend on external sources of heat to determine their body temperature. This is why you see them on the warm asphalt during spring days or sometimes even sunning themselves on logs. Unfortunately, vehicles have a huge impact on box turtle population declines. Which is why you should really be cautious on the roads this spring and slow down if you see a turtle on the road. If you really want to be a turtle hero, you can help them make it safely across but only move it in the direction it is traveling. Don't take it back to where it was coming from. Do not relocate turtles. I just learned something that really blows my mind. Maybe you already know it. But turtles remember where they live. They have that route memorized.
Jeff Briggler was talking about this in our February episode. Turtles and animals just in general are kind of like us. They have the same range and they go to the same places every day and they have the same route. If you totally relocate a turtle, you've taken it away from its home and that is the saddest thing I have ever heard. The turtle won't know where to get food or shelter. Don't relocate them. We can help them get safely across the street. But don't abduct them and make them search for new homes and food sources.
Do you brake for turtles?
>> Every time! I love turtles. They are the best.
>> Do you brake for turtles?
>> Of course I do.
>> Ma'am, do you brake for turtles?
>> I often brake for turtles and I will get out of my car and help them cross the road safely of course. I always try to send them in the direction they are going because I don't want to get in the way of their next steps or their next journey.
>> Turtles can live a long time. Most Missouri turtles live up to 30 years. But the common box turtle can live up to 80 years, occasionally, living more than a century. These reptiles are best left in the wild. Taking wildlife as a pet usually ends in a slow death because wild life requires special care, special permits. Just remember in general to leave wild life wild. Leave turtles in the wild. Follow the speed limit while driving. Keep your eyes on the road for our turtley friends.
I would be absolutely doing you a disservice if I did not talk about Missouri's most famous turtle in this episode. I traveled up to Powder Valley Nature Center in St. Louis to speak to naturalist Shelly Colatskie about Peanut.
Peanut is a red eared slider who gained national and even worldwide fame as an anti-littering mascot.
>> So in 1993, she was found at the Busch Conservation Area, and was brought to the St. Louis zoo and estimated to be around 9 years old. 1984, she is my age. 1984 is roughly when she was born. That brings her to being 39 years old this year. She turned 38 last year.
The zoo sent her to Busch Wildlife at their education center. She was an educational animal there. She traveled all over like the state fair and traveled all over as a spokesturtle for like no more trash. She is the big mascot for the No More Trash for MODot. In 2010, she was brought to Powder Valley for her retirement.
>> She is in her golden years here.
>> Yes, she is in her golden years. She doesn't go off site anymore to any programs but people can come here to see her.
>> So she was found with the . . .
>> Yes, she was found with the soda, like a Gatorade bottle, soda bottle, six pack bottle, whatever. You know the plastic rings. It was wrapped around her shell. That is why we call her Peanut. The way it was growing around her, it pinched the middle of her shell. It essentially was squeezing everything in there and grew around that way. Litter like that can cause a lot of damage. She has had damage. Surprisingly, she has been healthy. But because of the restriction of her internal organs, she has had a lot of issues with eggs not properly forming. She had surgery because of that. She wasn't able to actually have her eggs form. Eventually, she had a spay. She was spayed. She could not pass through those. It was causing issues.
>> She obviously has been an icon for the anti-littering campaigns. What has been the general response from the public whenever they see her here? Can you comment on that?
>> Yeah. It has been fantastic. We have her little biography type of background and say no to littering. A lot of the parents will bring their kids over to that and say, "look, this is why we cut the rings on the plastic." It is nice to see parents telling their kids this is why we throw away the trash and cut the rings. It is nice to see that message here as well as other places.
>> So Peanut is a red . . . I think I may have scared her a little bit. Her head kind of went in. Here, I will try to be a little more quiet for you Peanut. She might be used to it.
So she is a red eared slider.
>> Yes, a red eared slider. It is the most common turtle we have in Missouri, or the most common aquatic turtle we have in the state. In fact, they are really common in a lot of places. In fact, they may be one of the most invasive turtles in other places of the world because people often have them as pet trade. People release them.
Just like people release things here, people release things in other parts of the world.
>> You know that is so interesting. We always think of invasive species you know, non native in Missouri. I never think about how our native species could be invasive to other places. I never flipped it around. It is interesting to think about it that way. Okay. Yeah.
Yes! Turtles are big in the illegal pet trade.
>> Yeah, yeah. This is a super common turtle that people find all over the place. And often we have seen people . . . I've never seen people releasing them. But we've seen evidence of people releasing even their pet turtles in other ponds because they don't want to take care of them anymore.
As you can see, Peanut is a pretty good commitment. Their typical lifespan is . . . well their maximum life span is about 40 years in captivity. So you know, we are talking about taking care of an animal for a very long time.
>> Yeah, yeah! That is a commitment. You said she weighed around five ish pounds?
>> A little less than five pounds.
>> Do they get bigger than this or about the standard?
>> That is about the standard size for a regular red eared slider. She just looks weird since she's misshapen. That is a pretty big sized turtle for her.
>> Why I wanted to do an episode about turtles is this is the time of year when they really start become more active as it gets warmer. I just spoke to Jeff Briggler a month or so ago about how our amphibians and reptiles survive the winter time. He was talking about how red eared sliders, you know, they overwinter in the water. He was saying how if we get warmer days like we have had a little stretch of warm weather recently. We will see them pop back up.
I was just walking my dog at a county park in Cole county that had a lake. It made me so happy. I saw about four or five red eared sliders on a log all sunning themselves. Everybody I passed I had to point it out. Look at the sliders! Look at the turtles! I love that they are out sunning in the warmer temperatures.
>> Yes, I have seen some of them already this year. It's nice to see them out and about. It is a little too warm too early but you know.
>> It is interesting too because you know they will periodically just pop back up and then go back.
>> On warm days, yep.
>> Tell us a little more about red eared sliders. What do they typically eat?
>> Yeah, that's a really good question. Red eared sliders are pretty opportunistic. They will eat anything they can pretty much find out in the water. That can be plants, invertebrates, fish, crayfish. All sorts of things like that. For her, she is on the move now. For her, we will feed her crayfish. We feed her actual crayfish shipped in from the Louisiana crayfish company. They are like food grade crayfish. But we also get crayfish from Tumbling Creek Crave. So down at Tumbling Creek Crave, they are trapping the ringed crayfish, a native crayfish. But they are invading the stream in the cave. That is where the Tumbling Creek Cave snail lives, a federally endangered cave snail that is only found at Tumbling Creek Cave. So because of that they are trapping the crayfish thinking they may be eating the snails. We get the crayfish to feed our turtles. It is an awesome little you know.
>> A perfect two birds one stone kind of thing.
>> She gets crayfish. We will give her Kale as a nice vegetable to eat. We stuff it in the crayfish so she gets a surprise.
>> Hide her vegetables that way.
>> We will feed her nightcrawlers, some fish, some crickets. A varied diet.
She is on medication for the rest of her life with her gallbladder. She had some issues a few years ago. She gets the medicine stuffed in the crayfish and the kale stuffed on top.
>> She is treated well here at Powder Valley
>> She is treated well. But yeah in the wild they will be opportunistic and eat plants, fish, crayfish, and eat all sorts of vertebrates.
>> Do red eared sliders have any predators?
>> Yes, especially the younger ones. The bigger ones, not so much. The little babies, especially the eggs, will be predated by snakes, racoons and all sorts of things. And the young ones, too.
>> When is their mating time?
>> Their egg time is anywhere from June to October. It is like a wide variety. That is when they lay the eggs. Their mating time is at spring time when they are coming out, the early late spring early summer. They will be laying the eggs anywhere between June and October. That is why we don't know exactly when her birthday is . . .
>> Oh sure, sure.
>> But yeah, sometime between that June and October time frame.
>> It looks like she is shedding. Do turtles shed?
>> They do! So all reptiles have scales. Okay? So snakes when they shed they shed one big thing. Although sometimes it is in pieces. But they have an easier time shedding their skin. But turtles, their scales are called scutes.
>> Scutes. S-C-U-T-E-S.
>> Okay, gotcha. I had to think about it for a second.
>> They look like little armor, right, on their backs. But they are actually little pieces of skin, I mean, there is bone but there is skin on top of it too. That is how they shed those on there. She has had a hard time since she's old. Sometimes we have to peel her scutes off.
>> How can you tell the sex of a turtle? Is that an internal thing?
>> That is a really good question.
>> I know with snakes you can't really. Are there any external cues at all?
>> For box turtles there are. For box turtles, the male, the underside of their shell has a dip. Okay?
>> Like a divet?
>> Instead of flat, it has a divet. Also for them they have red eyes for the males. Box turtles.
>> Box turtle males have red eyes.
>> Red eyes and then underneath the shell has the divet underneath. A little hole. Not hole but like a little concave there.
For these turtles . . .
>> She is curious!
>> When we first had her, she was thought to be a male.
>> I remember I talked about Peanut and they were like, "it is a he, right?" and then they were like, "No, she's a she," you know there was . . . yeah.
>> Yeah so it wasn't until she had her ultrasound that we found out that it was a female. Yep. So turtles are a little bit more difficult. These turtles are a little more difficult to sex.
>> The red eared sliders.
>> I know snapping turtles are aquatic turtles. Do we have any other aquatic turtles?
>> We have quite a few aquatic turtles, in fact most of our turtles are aquatic. We have our box turtles that are not aquatic, then we have a few that are semi-aquatic. Blanding's Turtles are semi-aquatic. They will be in marshes and stuff. Most of our turtles are actually aquatic, or part aquatic most times of the year.
We have snapping turtles, our soft shell turtles, we have Musk turtles of several different kinds, we have map turtles.
>> Oh the map turtles! Yeah yeah yeah.
>> We've got . . . most of our turtles are aquatic to semi-aquatic. The only terrestrial ones we have that are all terrestrial would be the two box turtle species.
>> Okay! That's interesting. I didn't realize that we had more aquatic than terrestrial turtles. Okay. Well good to know. I'm glad I asked.
>> I mean most of our turtles will come out on land at some point. But most of ours will be in the water at some part of their day.
>> Which makes sense why a lot of anglers can accidentally catch turtles on their lines.
>> Yes! I have had several fishing programs before at the Mississippi River and they actually caught a couple turtles instead of fish. But we were able to get them off okay. It is amazing how many fishermen catch turtles when they are fishing.
>> Well I think getting back to the anti-littering thing that is something to note. Clean up all your fishing lines and your hooks. You know in addition to any of your litter that you trash.
>> Any plastics. You don't want them ingesting plastic or styrofoam. In addition to getting caught, they can also ingest a bunch of trash. It is always good to cleona up all the trash we can.
>> This is definitely a positive impact that she has had to be that mascot for "hey, pick up your Trash." On the flip side, it's sad because there are so many other animals that don't have the same success story that she has had.
>> Absolutely. She is a very lucky turtle. There is a lot of not so lucky animals that succumb to the trash and litter. It is definitely good awareness for people to pick up their trash. When you have those Gatorade bottle rings, cut them before you put them in the trash. If it gets away from the trash itself, no animals can get stuck in there.
It is really important that we protect our species. Even though they are really really common. There are other turtles that are species of conservation concern. You want to make sure that you know we protect our common species just like we are protecting our species of conservation concern.
So just think of it that way. No littering, no pollution and try to avoid pesticides especially around water since they will be eating those invertebrates. Just really if you have a chance to pick up trash around the conservation areas or around your home, it is a good way to help out our critters.
>> For anybody who would like to come to Powder Valley to see Peanut, where can they find her?
>> Yeah, we are open Tuesday through Saturday 8-5 p.m. and she is in our lobby. She is actually right next to our alligator snapping turtle and our common snapping turtle. She is in the lobby right next to two aquatic turtles. She has her own little aquarium. You know she is there visible every day that we are open. Come on and see her!
>> I am sure you all know her backstory and can answer any questions the public may have.
>> Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, yeah. We try to have litter pick ups and all that kind of stuff to support more anti-littering. Look for the programs we have on our website and you can look for events. You can search Powder Valley or other areas around that we have public programs you can come and see.
We have turtle programs, amphibian programs, and all sorts of things that people can come and learn more about our wildlife.
>> To meet Peanut for yourself and learn more about her story visit Powder Valley Nature Center in Kirkwood. While you are there, I recommend strolling around the nature trails on the property for an extra special treat.
Learn more about turtles in Missouri on our online field guide at missouriconservation.org. Thanks again to Shelly Colatskie for taking the time to meet with me and thank you for tuning in to another episode of nature boost!
I am Jill Pritchard with the Missouri Department of Conservation encouraging you to brake for turtles, and to get your daily dose of the outdoors.