Wondrous Wildlife – December 2009

Wondrous Wildlife

By Vern and Lori Gieger

No Hares Here


wonderousTurtles are found on every continent except Antarctica, living in habitats from the cold North Sea, to arid deserts. Turtles have survived for over 200 million years, and have changed very little. They all have shells, but the shells can vary from being soft and flexible to an almost rock hard plate. Some are almost flat as a pancake while others are domed shaped. Their body weight ranges from 5 ounces to over 1,600 pounds. There are approx. 285 species of turtles. Turtles are one of the few reptiles that most people like or don’t have a negative opinion of.

Soft shell turtles have body designs that are geared for fast locomotion in water. Most soft shells live in an aquatic environment; others such as the hard shell tortoise live only on land; being unable to swim tortoises would quickly drown. However the majority of turtles inhabit a little bit of both.

Turtles have long been symbolic in human culture. Characteristics such as wisdom, wealth, strength, happiness and longevity are often associated with them. They even have various representations in religion and cultures from the Cheyenne Indians to Hinduism. In some faiths, turtles carry the earth or hold up the sky.

Ecologically speaking turtles are considered to be beneficial, but this doesn’t bring out concern for their welfare. Turtles may symbolize longevity; it doesn’t seem to benefit them. In some cultures, it is believed by eating them one is granted a longer and more vigorous life. Many turtle species suffer from the ignorance of man. Often sold in markets as delicacies or used in so-called traditional medicine, turtle parts are used in home remedies ranging from improving sexual performance (especially sea turtle eggs) to curing cancer.

Turtles are threatened by many of the same threats that other wildlife face, such as habitat loss, the pet trade, pollution, human consumption. As well as the introduction of invasive species, for example red-eared sliders are very invasive; yes, those cute little green turtles you see for sale everywhere, they are fast reproducers, and are typically more aggressive than native turtle species. They simply out-compete native turtle species. Red-ears are on the World Conservation Union’s list of worst 100 invaders.

We receive many calls from residents who find a native mud turtle in a potentially dangerous situation. Typically on or near the road; the reason for this is the bare road offers an ideal place for basking. Two to three months out of the year, female turtles are attracted to roads due to the desire to reproduce. Not as a site for meeting the opposite sex, but as an ideal place for the female to lay eggs. Roadsides provide a patch of warm bare ground quite suitable for nesting. Unfortunately studies indicate female turtles make up the majority of the road-kills. This could have detrimental effects on turtle populations.

Sea turtles are especially captivating and are a symbol of marine conservation. However, life is not easy for turtles. According to various turtle conservation groups, 66% of all turtles & tortoises are threatened with extinction. One sad example is “Lonesome George” the last known surviving Abingdon Island Tortoise, George was moved to the Charles Darwin Research Center in the 1970s. With 100 or more years of solitude ahead, George is an ominous reminder of the plight of turtles and tortoises worldwide.

For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com

Ojo Del Lago
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