Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Turtle Tips

Eastern box turtle, photo by Paul Meyer
Eastern painted turtle and red-eared slider
Red-eared slider
Snapping turtle


Turtles at the Morris Arboretum
What lives at the Arboretum, leaves its shell and never leaves its shell? Not nut trees. Turtles of course. Like many reptiles, turtles hatch from eggs. Unlike their fellow reptilians - snakes and lizards - turtles have a distinct shell to protect and support their body.
Four turtle species are known to make their home at Morris Arboretum. All of them can be seen in and around the Arboretum’s Wetland, Paper Mill Run and the Wissahickon Creek. Other species may yet be found. All turtles, including aquatic species, lay their eggs on land, usually above the flood line.

Turtle Watching Tips
If you visit the Wetland during April-October you may see a dozen turtles basking on a log. These are the easiest to observe but who are you looking at? The most likely is a mix of Red-eared Sliders and Eastern Painted Turtles. The sliders are more common. Turtles near water usually dive before you are close enough to identify them, so binoculars are useful. With a little practice - and some identification guide research - you can be checking scute patterns, carapace profiles and head markings to share your herpetological observations. The common Snapping Turtle is most often seen as a snout and pair of eyes just above the surface. You might think it is just a bit of stump. Once you recognize it, you will begin to see it more frequently. The only land turtle we have is the Eastern Box Turtle. This may be the rarest to see as it likes to burrow into cool moist retreats or under logs. Eastern Box Turtle is a species of special concern in Pennsylvania. The survival of many reptile species is threatened by habitat loss. Leave all the turtles be and protect their habitats. Look and learn, but don’t touch – and remember the powerful snapping turtle has a long neck and a short temper.    

Look for these four turtles at the Morris Arboretum:
  1. Red-eared slider, Trachemys scripta elegans – aquatic invasive
  2. Eastern painted turtle, Chrysemys picta picta – aquatic native
  3. Common snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentine serpentine – aquatic native
  4. Eastern box turtle, Terrapene carolina carolina – terrestrial native species of special concern


Article and photos (unless otherwise stated) contributed by Robert R. Gutowski, Director of Public Programs, Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania.

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