Readers’ turtles

May 23, 2021 • 6:30 am

It’s World Turtle Day, and so, in addition to our usual wildlife posts, I’m putting up some readers’ photos of their turtles, including photos of how they can be damaged through human carelessness. Readers’ captions are indented, and clicking on the photos will enlarge them.

First, from Divy Figueroa:

Here are a couple of turtle pics from our collection. This little guy was one of our first hatchlings of this species.

Mekong Snail-Eating Turtle (Malayemys subtrijuga):

These are a couple of baby Forsten’s Tortoises (Indotestudo forstenii). We have a nice group of adults and sub-adults. They come from the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, and sadly, they are endangered.

From reader Christopher McLaughlin:

Since Sunday, May 23 in World Turtle Day, I thought I would share some photos of local turtles (tortoises for you persnickety types). Three of them demonstrate how hard life is for the modern turtle and why we all ought to be more thoughtful and kind to turtles. Of course they suffer from all sort of issues; habitat destruction, poaching, pet trade, road crossings, invasive species, climate change, but also lawnmowers, wildfires, and being harmed by our pets.

The first turtle of the year, found in my yard on April 7, still covered in mud and just after a breakfast of dandelion flowers. The ornate box turtle, Terrepene ornata ornata. (Female, I think. I forgot to check)

Carapace damage from a brush hog-type mower favored by rural men to unnecessarily mow large swaths of grassland like the cow pasture behind my property. Terrapene carolina triunguis. (Male)

Prairie fire damage. These little dudes are able to withstand some serious damage from the fires that have always played a part in their ecosystems, and I could not be for certain that this wasn’t completely natural but it was on a nearby prairie “managed” by the conservation department and frankly they are not the most scientifically minded people, but are more concerned with “managing” lands for hunting and fishing. And yes, she is a survivor, a little melted and disfigured but with head, all four limbs, and tail intact.  Terrepene ornata ornata (female)

Another one from my yard with the usual brush hog damage, with the white bone showing through the carapace scutes, but also missing chunks of marginal scutes and carapace bone just in front of my thumb and another chunk on his backside. Terrapene ornata ornata. (Male)

12 thoughts on “Readers’ turtles

    1. If I’m not talking too much, I’d add that Divy’s pets are suffering the usual assaults and insults. Habitat destruction, pet trade (there are plenty of legal ways to obtain them, as I’m sure Divy could expand on, like through the TSA and other groups that have assurance colonies) local and Asian food trade, and of course, Chinese “medicine”. China is a huge extinction driver, for food and fake medicine. They have been caught trying to skirt laws in the US, hovering up any and all species they can get in the much more lax southern states. It’s quite horrific what they are willing to do. Thankfully many states have started to crack down, and groups like the Turtle Survival Alliance, Turtle Conservancy, and many others step in to help conserve through breeding programs, rehab, and regime turtles saved through the frequent poacher confiscations around the world.

      But it’s not just an issue that happens elsewhere. Lawns, roads, strip malls, warehouses (I see hundreds of acres being bulldozed on my morning commute) these ARE habitat destruction, right here, not just Brazil or Honduras or China, but quite literally in your own backyards.

      Edit: typing while walking the dog around the yard, he rediscovered the three-toed box turtle along the fence under a tree, and a new ornate not far away in the tall grass, with a massive healed concavity in his carapace; another mower accident. How he survived what could have removed his spine (which is fused inside to the carapace) I just cannot imagine!

  1. Christopher– where (town, state) is it that you have ornate and eastern box turtles living in the same spot? Do they prefer different habitats, or do you find them side by side?


    1. I live in western Missouri, in an area that was formerly prairie, with the Marais des Cygnes wetlands to the west and the Ozarks to the east. There is plenty of habitat overlap with the two species of box turtle we have here, with bands of forest merging into grassland. The three-toed box turtles are typically found in the forested areas and the ornate in the grassland but my yard (1.5 acres) has both.

      The three-toed likes to hibernate under a big weedy rose Bush in my fence line while the ornate gets under the grass clumps in my unmowed side yard, about 50 walking paces away. Another ornate likes the fence line as well, near a flower garden on top of my tornado shelter. They all seem to migrate between my wild-ish yard and the cow pasture. They are frequently found within a few dozen feet of each other in my yard, as they are in a great little park near my alma mater of the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg.

      I only mow the visible parts of my yard (hoping the “city” doesn’t take too much notice, and I’ve been trying to fill it with native wildflowers, trees, and bushes to attract birds and insects. I have lots of slugs and two kinds of land snail, plus blackberry brambles and I’ve been planting wild strawberries all over to help keep my turtle friends fat and happy.

    2. I used to live in central Oklahoma, where ornates and three-toed easterns can be seen crossing roads together. They appear to be microsympatric there, though ornates are in general more a prairie species and easterns like forests. I think they have somewhat different diets, ornates being more omnivorous than the largely herbivorous easterns.

  2. Do you repair the carapace damage or does it repair its self? I don’t suppose the fire burners can’t be convinced to adjust their burning habits. My turtle experience is limited to snappers.

    1. Turtles can come back from some really horrific wounds. The shells will knit back together but in most of these injuries affected only the scutes, which is a form of keratin. It does seem to regrow, imperfectly and not always completely but the turtles don’t seem to mind.

      Mowing pastures and controlled burns could easily and safely be done during the winter months and would prevent harming not only turtles but ground nesting birds like the threatened prairie chicken, or bobwhite quail while still preventing the trees from taking over grassland habitats. Convincing people to do so is another issue. I know I can sound rather harsh towards the Mo dept. of Conservation, and to be fair, they do a roughly decent job but there is so much room for improvement, especially in seeing public lands as more than just places to shoot, spear, trap, and “harvest” wildlife. They also put out some good books and a decent magazine.

      And for the snapping turtles… I hate how people out here purposely run them over or shoot them based on the erroneous belief that they eat up all the game fish (newsflash! It’s the same damn dumb rednecks that eat up all the bass and crappie, and mess up the habitat with trash and other types of pollution!) I think they are beautiful! Plus, they are natural garbage cans, eating up dead fish and anything else that dies in the water, plus aquatic plants, insects, and even the invasive zebra mussels.

      1. Oh how awful that people try to run over snappers on purpose! There are many where I am and they always are struggling against cars and I’ve heard lots of stupid ignorant comments about what they eat.

  3. Thanks for the lovely examples of our turtle friends. I’m a member of TSA, and am immensely proud of the work they are doing. Recently, I have been following their efforts in tagging Alligator snappers; this is extremely important work to help save that magnificent species.
    I live in Washington state, and the only endemic turtle is the Western Pond turtle- unfortunately, I’ve never spotted one. We have a lot of “wild” red-eared sliders though- I think you can find them in just about every state at this point, thanks to the pet trade and their natural hardiness. I have three sliders in a greenhouse pond, but I’ll never set them free around here. It would be great to live in an area where many endemic species lived, especially land turtles/tortoises.

    1. I am a member of TSA as well and I suppose we should let people know that they have put up several talks by researchers and field scientists on the yootoobs, alligator snapping turtles being a recent one. I’d recommend searching them out and of course sending a few $ £ € or whatever their way.

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