Turtle Watchers Day Out

 Turtles, nice conversation and sunny weather make for a good field trip. Photo by Cynthia Ehlinger.

Turtles, nice conversation and sunny weather make for a good field trip. Photo by Cynthia Ehlinger.

 Inquisitive snapping turtle.  PHOTO BY CYNTHIA EHLINGER.

Inquisitive snapping turtle. PHOTO BY CYNTHIA EHLINGER.

Today the Connecticut Turtle Atlas held its first field trip. I was joined by Daniel Ksepka and Cynthia Ehlinger of the Bruce Museum, and two participants at Binney Park in Old Greenwich. This urban park is a great turtle spot. Although there is not a great diversity of species (only three), it is a fantastic spot to see large numbers of common snapping turtles. Today we observed approximately 20 snappers (including a mating pair), around 20 red-eared sliders, and a handful of eastern painted turtles. What is interesting is the snapping turtles are so acclimated to people that they nearly crawl up on land towards you. I believe they are use to receiving handouts from park-goers!

 Eastern painted turtle (left) and red-eared sliders basking in the Spring sun.  Photo by Cynthia Ehlinger.

Eastern painted turtle (left) and red-eared sliders basking in the Spring sun. Photo by Cynthia Ehlinger.

We all had a great discussion on topics such as identification techniques, ecology, reproduction, biology, and conservation. Of note was a conversation concerning the red-eared slider. This ubiquitous species can be found nationwide in many urban ponds. Unfortunately these ponds are mostly far from the species' native range of the Mississippi Valley (Illinois to south Texas). These transplants arrive as discarded pets. This is the most prominent pet store turtle, although they are not very well-suited for the role. Red-eared sliders are attractive and cute when young, but by their fourth to fifth year they may be 6-7 inches in length. They require a large aquarium with a generous land section, specialized heat and UV light lamps, and produce a lot of waste material. When these pets become too maintenance intensive many people, thinking they are doing the right thing, release them into local waterways. Researchers are only now starting to realize what types of negative ecological effects these transplants have on the native species.

 A female Eastern painted basks on a rock.  Photo by Cynthia Ehlinger.

A female Eastern painted basks on a rock. Photo by Cynthia Ehlinger.

If you spend time outdoors and routinely (or occasionally!) come across turtles in the wild, please consider joining our citizen science initiative, the Connecticut Turtle Atlas. For more information and instructions for joining please contact me at twalsh@brucemuseum.org or (203) 413-6767.

Tim Walsh

Citizen Science Coordinator