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Turtles with a long tale

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#1 Janet Macunovich

Janet Macunovich


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Posted 01 April 2012 - 10:02 AM

Been emailing with our friend, Moderator Beaufort Cranford. Beaufort has a very soft spot for wildlife with a velvet pillow patch for turtles. It's reminding us of other turtle stories, and that maybe you-all have never considered how tangled an ecological web can become once we insert ourselves into it.
If you stock your garden pond with a turtle or other animal, make it a native species. Then allow it to feed itself, giving it help only by nurturing the rest of its natural food chain.

Chapter one. Saturday in March.

B: Fark. I have another #$%&! turtle. I was looking for "minnows" on craigslist, intending to start raising my own turtle food in the pond, and the only thing that came up was a snapping turtle.

Some(one)... got him from her parents about six months ago; they caught him on a hook and line in Indiana while fishing. He looks about 12-18 months old, which means he thinks he's still wild. There's a photo of him trying to climb out of his tank, which my snappers have never done since they were raised from hatchlings. Looking at the poor thing in that picture, I couldn't just leave him there; only Glob knows who might buy him if I don't, or what they'd do with him if nobody made an offer. So I bought him and the tank for a totally outrageous $50 and will pick him up Monday.

...we're going to have to return this turtle to the wild pretty soon, before he gets any more accustomed to life as a prisoner. Be thinking of a safe place, please.

Janet, Jean-Luc is ready for his June appt with you. If you and Steve have a surfeit of tadpoles again, I could use a bucketful of them, too. The pond has no catfish in it this year, so they stand a good chance of becoming frogs. That is, the ones I don't feed to Darwin the musk turtle.

And that's the latest reptile news. Just had to share.

J: You are hopeless. Did Steven tell you that? He told ME that, when I got home yesterday. "Beaufort emailed, he has another turtle..."

...walk with us at Highland Rec. There is perhaps the safest pond/lake there of anywhere we know. You will, of course, have to see it to believe us.

P.S. Don't name it, this turtle. Do not name this turtle!

B: This is a wild turtle, I hope. If so, I don't plan to keep him long.

This is a very stupid turtle; he got caught on a hook. The first thing I need to do is see the vet and find out if he still has the hook in him...

I have looked EVERYWHERE for wild minnows. You'd think there'd be a bait shop somewhere within 10 miles of me, but apparently not. I don't like feeding my turtles on goldfish, because so many of them have funky fish diseases and almost all of them are chemical bombs from the ponds they're raised in. ...I'd try to catch some minnows but I can't even get to the Rouge.

Seriously, if you guys have a lot of tadpoles again this year, I'd appreciate some.

J: We shall see what we can do. Not many tadpoles yet. Steven saw one, early, but I wish he hadn't as an overwintered tadpole would probably be a bullfrog, which we don't want.

Scratch that, Steve says there are a bunch of new hatchlings already, now. Might be out your way this week and if so will drop by whatever we have -- excess fish or whatever. Our pond's goldfish would be okay, as they're at least two generations removed from store-bought and nothing goes in that pond except what ma nature drops in.

But I dunno if Steven will actually part with them.

So anyway, we'll see what we have to share.

We used to tell our kids, because our vet told us, 'sorry guys, we don't work on wild animals." Your vet does? Would love to hear about the encounter. Our two friends the vets always amaze me with how they can hold animals to work on them but, a snapper. Yikes.

B: Jean-Luc would love to have a bullfrog tadpole.

A vet in Allen Park cured him of septicemia. She also has turtles, though not snappers, and had no trouble handling him even when she gave him a shot of antibiotics and he came out of virtual catatonia long enough to try to kill her. If not for her he would be dead.

Last year we harvested maybe 50 second generation comets out of my pond, but I made the stupid mistake of putting them in the tank with some store-bought fish and most of them died. If I ever get some real minnows I plan to put enough in my pond to start a breeding pool. By then you'll have transported Jean-Luc to his new home, but Blitzkrieg appreciates fish, too.

J: Blitzkrieg? Blitzkrieg?! You named this turtle. Arghhh!

B: Blitzkrieg is the Florida softshell that I rescued from Scott's turtle stock in summer 2009.

J: This is all reminding me of every other turtle/wild-thing-brought-in story. Cory and Turtle. Peggy and her Manhattan street vendor turtles. Sue and her painteds. Can I put it on the Forum?

B: What do you want to say? I'd like to tell garden-pond people to avoid turtles that aren't native to Michigan. Of course, red-eared sliders aren't native to Michigan any more than Florida softshells, and ponds around here are full of them because of pets released into the wild. They seem to adapt OK. But a Florida softshell would die before Christmas.

A lot of turtle purists rail mightily against releasing former aquarium turtles into the wild. But snappers, for one, are famous for making the transition easily.

J: Tell people. Hmm. To stick with native animals if you have a garden pond you want to stock. That people are softies. That it's a big responsibility to take things in from the wild. That there is not easy way to step into and back out of an ecological web.

Whatever the story and the moral, it's for later. Maybe tonight after class. Much to do today. And dag blam it I left the hose out ready to use not thinking the ground would get so cold, so now I can't get it clear of ice in time to hose the frost off the red horsechestnut. Argh. So frustrating, I can bend the hose all along its length and hear the crackle but can't get the water through it.

Chapter Two

B: So after work I drove clear across town to buy that snapping turtle I wrote about the other day. People should have to have licenses to own turtles. It was a mud turtle.

A mature mud turtle, too. They were feeding him goldfish, but unfortunately fish, except dead fish, are not really on the mud turtle menu. I wouldn't be surprised if he hasn't eaten since they got him.

Sadly, mud turtles are probably the dimmest turtles Glob ever created. Their one trick is to retract their head, shut their eyes, and open their mouths wide. At least that way I can tell this one doesn't still have a hook in him. They spend almost all their time either doing nothing at all or trudging around hoping to bump into something to eat. They look for all the world like primitive armored vehicles, and have a personality to match. This one cost me $40 (I declined the tank and paraphernalia) but better that than leave him with people who didn't even know what the hell he was. Mud turtles are crappy pets, anyway.

We'll be letting this one out as soon as the water temperature around here stabilizes.

J: Shoot. Now you make me want to drive straight over there with these tadpoles. But I can leave some there early Saturday.

You said they had a picture of him on-line? Must have been a pretty poor image if you saw a snapper in a mud turtle body...

Should we put him in OUR pond? Now?

B: Thanks!

J: Sorry Beaufort, no tadpoles on your step this morning -- don't look out, see nothing and think some neighborhood kid snagged 'em. It was raining, hailing and so cold yesterday that getting to our pond to fish anything out was daunting. When we did get out there, it was so cold everyone was out of sight.

B: I figured it would be too cold for tadpoles. Darn it. I'm having a hard time with this musk turtle, Darwin, who used to have an appetite to rival those of Jean-Luc and Blitzkrieg. Now he eats nothing. I don't know if he's going through a hibernation-time hiatus, or what. But I'm looking forward to trying him on tadpoles. He'll bite the head off a mealworm pupa once in awhile, but that's it.

Meanwhile, this rescued mud turtle has taught me several things already. First, mud turtles aren't native to Michigan. I thought they were common pretty much east of the Mississippi, but no, they're mostly Southern, though they do range closely up the Atlantic coast to Long Island. If that woman's family caught him in Indiana, they did so in extreme southern Indiana, because that's the limit of their range in the west -- this is, in fact, a Mississippi mud turtle. So I may be stuck with him indefinitely. At least he has a healthy appetite for night crawlers. He'll get tadpoles, too, when they come. I'm going out tomorrow if the sun shines to see if I see any in sundry rain pools and mudholes.

J: We did wonder about the mud turtle thing. Our book of Michigan Turtles has an entry "Musk and Mud Turtles" and it was when I went to those pages to see this mud turtle you were now taking on, that Steven said, "Hey, that's the turtle Deb had show up at her place." When I looked harder at the text,though, there was not one word on those pages about mud turtles. Steven had been preparing to email Deb to offer his condolences that her pond had acquired a dumb turtle that would never be seen. Glad now we can go back to "go" and maybe tell her to see if her turtle matches the musk turtle profile.

Sorry if you have another turtle-for-life you didn't really wish for.

Hmm. Thinking about nothing showing in the pond surface, in the cold. Maybe the ducks have taken a big bite out of the tadpole pool? The ducks have been here off and on all week (used to hang out in the water in the neighbor's pool cover but they took the pool out). Never thought about ducks being tadpole and toad egg eaters. Always thought they were just grazing the vegetation when they do that water-biting thing they do.

As I read about musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) I note that it eats snails. Another menu item I never thought about, re turtles. What about we bring your turtles some snails? We have tons of those. We could bring it a few young soft-ish ones and see whether it likes them. Our snails, too, are all organically fed. Unless they stray into others' yards as the one behind us does get sprayed (illegally and stupidly sprayed, too. The guy doing the spraying couldn't tell us what he was applying, or what it was supposed to control -- yet a commercial firm must be law be able to supply that info on demand to neighbors -- and was also doing a poor job of applying it. Frustrating situation, and maybe one for an ethics class, even -- do we tell our neighbor that we would rather did not spray, that her service is doing a poor job? Would she even believe us?

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