Thursday, May 19, 2011

Urban Turtles

Tuesday's post started me thinking about our urban turtles. They are often overlooked in our city parks, except when the first Spring individuals haul themselves out on logs signally the symbolic end of Winter.

Red-eared Sliders are the most common turtle species in New York City's ponds and lakes. This native of the southern United States has become naturalized in our area due to its popularity as a pet. In fact, it is the most common water turtle kept as a pet. Clearly many end up living out their very long lives (50-70 years) in city parks, not home aquariums. Some states where this species in not native have ban their sale as they are considered invasive. These and other turtles are known carriers of Salmonella.

Two weeks ago I spotted my first Common Musk Turtle. It was in Prospect Park and it wasn't until I got home and researched the photo that I learned this individual's identity. Another common name for this species is "stinkpot". Its species name is "oderatus", which may give a clue to one of its most prominent features - when picked up they often will secrete a very unpleasant smell. This small turtle's high domed carapace and yellow facial stripes caught my attention while walking along the park's Lullwater.

"Friendly", "endearing" and "cute" are not words I would generally use to describe the Common Snapping Turtle. They eat just about anything they want, can grow to as large as 75 lbs. and are very long lived. Did I mention that these carnivores can be extremely aggressive and could easily bite off a finger? That said, there is one individual in Green-Wood Cemetery's Crescent Water that appears to like humans. The other possibility is that it is merely a ploy to gain our confidence so that it can get close enough to drag us to the bottom of the lake and eat us. This individual is probably the same turtle that Marge photographed last year and I posted about here. While birding in the cemetery with Paige last weekend we stopped off at the pond. I saw the snapper's head sticking out of the water several yards for shore. When I stomped my feet on the pond's coping water, he (or she) swam right over to us. I wouldn't advise feeding this behemoth for several reasons, but her sad eyes and blowing bubbles made it tempting. I suspect that this was once somebody's pet that they released here. Either that or it has been getting fed by someone on a regular basis, making it associate humans with feeding time.

Other local turtles include Diamondback Terrapins, which can be seen at Gerritsen Creek and other coastal areas. They should currently be involved in breeding behavior. American Red-bellied Turtles can be found in Prospect Park, as well as, Common Map Turtles. Anyway, my point is that there's a lot more to NYC turtles than store-bought-then-released-in-local-ponds Red-eared Sliders, so get curious and get exploring...but keep your fingers far away from this one's mouth.

1 comment:

Matthew said...

A musk turtle! Excellent find. There are also painted turtles in Prospect, seen in the Pools and the Lullwater in small numbers, and the Japanese Garden in the BBG.

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