Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Free Willy!

Thanks to the Cape May Coast Guard, this big fella was entangled and set free to live another 80 years or so....

A happy New Year to everyone who survived 2014!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Top 10 Weird Turtle Facts


Sure, turtles and tortoises are weird. They're egg-laying, scaly reptiles with oval-shaped hard shells. They lumber around incredibly slowly and have wrinkly, bald heads that make them look like wise old men. And let's not forget their signature ability to retract their heads inside their shells when they're frightened. But believe it or not, these animals can get even weirder.

Eastern long-necked turtle
10. That Shell isn't What it Seems
Turtle shells look a little like human body armor, but the shell, which is made up of about 50 different bones, actually is an evolutionary modification of the rib cage and part of the vertebral column. And contrary to what you may have seen in animated cartoons, a chelonian can't take off its shell and crawl out of it -- just as you couldn't dismantle your own spine and ribs.

The shell itself actually has two parts: an upper section, the carapace, and a lower portion called the pastron, which are joined by a bony bridge. Some turtles have a moveable joint, usually in the plastron, that acts as a hinge and enables the creature to pull the two shell sections together tightly while it retracts its body inside. Shells have nerves embedded in them and a blood supply as well, so if a chelonian's shell is injured, it may bleed and feel pain.

9. Tortoises Orbited the Moon Before Astronauts Did
In September 1968, the Soviet Union launched the space probe Zond 5 on a mission to orbit the moon and test conditions as a prelude to a possible lunar mission by cosmonauts. In addition to a life-size human mannequin equipped with radiation detectors, the spacecraft carried a number of living passengers, including a pair of Russian tortoises that newspaper reports initially described as "turtles." After a week in space, Zond 5 returned to Earth and, despite a failure of crucial altitude
detectors, successfully splashed down in the Indian Ocean.

Along with the other creatures, the tortoises were rescued and brought back to the Soviet Union for study. The Soviets revealed that the tortoises had lost about 10 percent of their body weight, and showed an "excessive content" of glycogen and iron in their liver tissue and some changes in their spleens. Otherwise, though, the tortoises remained active and showed no loss of appetite, according to NASA.

8. Alligator Snapping Turtles Lure Prey With Their Tongues
One of the most fearsome Chelonians around is the alligator snapping turtle, Macroclemys temminckii, which is the biggest freshwater turtle in North America. It can grow to 2.5 feet long, can weigh as much as 200 pounds, and has powerful jaws, a sharply-hooked beak, nasty bearlike claws and a muscular tail. The alligator snapping turtle does eat some aquatic plants, but it's mostly a carnivore that dines on a variety of smaller creatures -- fish, frogs, snakes, worms, clams, crayfish and even other turtles.

The alligator snapping turtle catches prey by way of a fiendishly clever evolutionary adaptation: an appendage to its tongue that, when wriggled, looks an awful lot like a worm, according to the Saint Louis Zoo. A fish who gets fooled by the turtle's tongue will swim right into range of the hungry
predator's jaws.

7. They Make Sounds, Even Though They Lack Vocal Cords
Chelonians can make sounds by swallowing or by forcing air out of their lungs, and some species emit unique noises. The red-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria), a South American species, makes a series of clucks that sound like a chicken. Male Travancore tortoises (Indotestudo forstenii) in Southeast Asia emit a high-pitched whine that sounds like an electric motor when they're seeking mates. The giant musk turtle (Staurotypus salvinii), which is found in Central America, is known for yelping like a dog when it's startled or being attacked.

But the weirdest sound is made by nesting female leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea), who make a distinctly unladylike noise that resembles a human belching, according to the book Turtles: An Extraordinary Natural History 245 Years in the Making.

6. Males Select Potential Mates By Sniffing Tails
OK -- so humans shouldn't really talk, since we have some pretty silly mating behavior of our own, including selecting potential partners on the basis of their dancing ability or zodiac sign. In comparison, perhaps male chelonians' method of sniffing under other female chelonians' tails is relatively sensible, not to mention functional.

Since both males and females' sexual organs are hidden inside their cloaca, a cavity used for both reproduction and eliminating waste, humans have trouble telling by sight which shelled creature is female and which is male. Turtles and tortoises, however, possess an extremely keen sense of smell.
Males apparently can detect the scent of pheromones, a type of identifying chemical, that is secreted inside a female's cloaca. Chelonians rely on scent so heavily that a male red-footed tortoise once was observed trying to mount a head of lettuce that a female had just climbed over, according to the book Behavior of Exotic Pets.

5. They Don't Have Ears, But Can Perceive Low-Pitched Sounds
You may have heard that turtles and tortoises, which lack an ear opening, are deaf, but that's not completely accurate. It's true that chelonians can't hear anywhere near as well as humans and many other species can. But they can detect certain types of sounds. Scientists who've used light microscopes to study the ear structure of marine turtles, for example, have found that their middle ears have a very thick eardrum-like membrane, which limits the frequency range they can perceive. But that adaptation is extremely efficient for bone conduction hearing at low frequencies, according to Behavior of Exotic Pets.
According to reptile expert Melissa Kaplan, Chelonians generally can perceive sounds in the 50 to 1,500 Hz range, compared to the typical human hearing range of 20 to 20,000 Hz. Our hard-shelled
friends also can't differentiate loudness as well as we can. The spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata), for example, has a peak sensitivity of just 4 dB, compared to 120 dB in humans. The upshot is that while turtles and tortoises may not be able to appreciate the nuances of Mahler's "Symphony No. 2," their
sense of hearing is good enough to detect the presence of predators.

4. Turtles Are Nearly As Old As The Dinosaurs
Chelonians and dinosaurs emerged and developed at pretty much the same time, in natural history terms. The oldest known fossil turtle, Odontochylys semitstacea, dates back 220 million years,
which means it showed up 23 million years after the earliest known dinosaur relative, Asilisaurus kongwe. That long-extinct ancient turtle had a partial shell covering its belly, but it didn't extend to completely protect its back, like the ones that modern chelonians have, according to National Geographic.

Amazingly, some turtles that existed in the age of the dinosaurs are still around. Pelomedusidae, a family of freshwater turtles native to eastern and southern Africa, first appeared about 120 million years ago. The first tortoises emerged on land at the start of the Tertiary Period 65 million years ago, shortly after the dinosaurs died out in a mass extinction. In the ocean, the oldest surviving species of sea turtles, the Cheloniidae, date back 55 million years, according to the book Turtles of the World.

3. Turtles Breathe Without A Diaphragm
Most air-breathing vertebrates draw air in and out of their lungs using a diaphragm, which is a muscle that contracts and relaxes with each breath to expand the ribs. It's pretty easy to tell when one's breathing because its body moves. But turtles don't have a diaphragm, which is all well and good, since the rigidity of their shells would prevent their ribs, which are connected to them, from expanding. Instead, turtles must move their limbs or neck, and utilize other muscles connected to the
pleural cavity (the area around the lungs), to help them breathe.

Some turtles also have special muscles situated between their limbs and lungs to aid in breathing, or they have an additional breathing-related trick that allows them to remain underwater for longer periods. According to the book Turtles: An Extraordinary Natural History 245 Years in the Making, some turtles use buccopharyngeal breathing, in which they take water into their mouths and then pass it out of their nostrils. Along the way, the oxygenated water passes along the capillary-rich tissue inside their necks, allowing additional oxygen to enter directly into the bloodstream.

2. They Have Favorite Colors
Like us, our shell-wearing reptilians are visually oriented creatures. They rely on sight to identify other members of the same species, food, and potential danger, such as predators. Sea turtles, for example, are so dependent on sight that when researchers blindfolded some of them, the animals were unable to find their way back into the water.

Research also shows that turtles not only can perceive colors, but that certain colors -- red, orange and yellow -- seem to be the most appetizing to them. When they see an object in one of those shades, they display "investigative behavior," which suggests that they're checking it out to see if they want to eat it, according to Turtles: An Extraordinary Natural History 245 Years in the Making.

1. There's A Turtle That Seems Part Skunk
The African helmeted turtle, Pelomedusa subrufa, is the most widespread turtle species in Africa. It's found just about everywhere south of the Sahara desert. It's a hunter-scavenger that hunts in packs and seems happy to eat most anything, from parasites lodged in the skin of rhinoceroses to young birds and small mammals, according to Turtles of the World. It attacks ducklings by dragging them underwater, and steals bait from anglers' hooks, habits which make it disliked by many Africans.

But the helmeted turtle's reputation is not just odious, but odorous as well. It smells really, really awful. That aroma comes from four glands, one under each leg, which release a foul-smelling liquid seems to repulse horses as well as humans, according to the International Wildlife Encyclopedia. Despite that unpleasant odor, villagers sometimes dig up the turtles from their mud nests during wet season for food. However, the smelly shelled creatures don't have enough meat on them to make
a very satisfying meal, according to Turtles of the World.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Knitting for Turtles!

Who knew?! Possibly the best craft for turtle lovers and tortured turtles around the globe - and now costumes are available for sale on etsy!!

Visit the Turtle Knitter's website for more creations!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My Cousin: The Madagascar Big-Headed Turtle

The Madagascan Big-Headed turtle (Erymnochelys madagascariensis) is a turtle native to the waters of permanent slow moving rivers and lakes in western Madagascar. These turtles, although they are critically endangered (the 13th most endangered turtle, according to the top 25 most endangered turtles list, they are commonly eaten for food but they are still commonly shipped from Madagascar to Asia to help meet the demand of Asia's traditional medicine market.

A captive breeding program has also been started to prevent the species from becoming extinct. The Madagascan big-headed turtle is one of the most endangered turtles in the world, and is also included in the Turtle Conservation Funds (TFC) top 25 endangered.
It has a hard dark brown shell enclosing all the soft parts of the body and as its name says it, a really large head. Young turtles have a soft pattern of fine black lines on their shells, but they disappear with age.
These species inhabit large areas with freshwater such as permanent slow streaming rivers, backwaters and lakes. Many of the hatching and juvenile turtles move into smaller rivers, where they can grow quickly and safely before going into deeper and larger bodies of water.

The main threat for this species is that they heavily exploited for food, caught in nets, fish traps and by hooks and lines. It is also hunted for illegal export to Asia for the traditional medicinal market. Another threat is the land development as it destroys its natural habitat.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Protect the Sea Turtle

More than half of all species of turtles are endangered. Protecting sea turtles is not only an act of compassion; it reinforces a necessary link in the fragile chain of our earth's ecosystem. And when humankind is in harmony with the "world of the sea turtle" and the ocean at large, the benefits are far reaching-we are all connected.

Visit the Sailors for the Sea website to learn more.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Turtle in Tortoise!

Strange things do happen, even in our turtle/tortoise world. This tortoise Lola somehow managed to eat a pendant of a sea turtle.

Read and view the story - with xrays - here.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Giving Thanks

Hank gives thanks to Turtle Mama for many good years of care and treats

Friday, November 14, 2014

13 FUN Facts About Turtles & Tortoise

1. A tortoise is a turtle, but a turtle isn't a tortoise.
A turtle is any shelled reptile belonging to the order Chelonii. The term "tortoise" is more specific, referring to terrestrial turtles. (Of course, there's always an exception. In this case, the land-dwelling box turtle.) Tortoises are usually herbivorous and can't swim.
One easy way to tell 'em apart: look at their feet and shells. Water turtles have flippers or webbed feet with long claws, and their shells are flatter and more streamlined. Tortoises have stubby, elephant-like feet and heavier, domed shells.

2. A group of tortoises is called a creep.
But you won't see a creep very often. (Not that kind, anyway.) Tortoises are solitary roamers. Some mother tortoises are protective of their nests, but they don't care for their young after they hatch.

3. Tortoises inspired the ancient Roman military.
During seiges, soldiers would get in testudo formation, named after the Latin word for tortoise. The men formed rows and held shields in front or above them to completely shelter the unit.

4. "Testudinal" means "pertaining to or resembling a tortoise or tortoise shell."
Go ahead. Compliment your friend's testudinal sunglasses.

5. Tortoises have an exoskeleton AND an endoskeleton.
The shell has three main parts: the top carapace, the bottom plastron, and the bridge that fuses these pieces together. You can't see them, but every tortoise has ribs, a collar bone, and a spine inside its shell.

6. The scales on the carapace are called scutes.
Made of the same keratin found in fingernails and hooves, scutes protect the bony plates of the shell from injury and infection. The growth rings around scutes can be counted to determine the approximate age of wild tortoises.

7. The lighter the shell, the warmer the origin.
Tortoises from hot places tend to have lighter-colored shells than tortoises from cooler areas. The light tan sulcata originates from the southern part of the Sahara Desert.

8. They can't swim, but tortoises can hold their breath for a long time.
They're extremely tolerant of carbon dioxide. It's a good thing—tortoises have to empty their lungs before they can go into their shells. You'll often hear them exhale when they're startled and decide to hide.

9. And yes, their shells are sensitive to touch.
Shells have nerve endings, so tortoises can feel every rub, pet, or scratch ... and sometimes they love it. Note: This delightful creature is a turtle, not a tortoise.

10. Sulcatas are one of the most popular pet tortoises—and one of the biggest.
Get ready to move to the suburbs and amend your will. Sulcatas are the third largest tortoise species in the world, behind the Galapagos and Aldabra giant tortoise. They can live more than 100 years and weigh up to 200 pounds.

11. Charles Darwin and Steve Irwin cared for the same tortoise, a Galapagos gal named Harriet.
Darwin is said to have collected and named Harriet back in 1835. She was sent to England and eventually wound up at Australia Zoo, founded by Steve Irwin's parents. She finally passed on in 2006, the same year as the Crocodile Hunter's fatal encounter with a stingray.

12. They're the ultimate conservationists.
Tortoises can extract water and nutrients from even the most paltry bites. Their hindgut system works like a double digestive tract, separating water from their waste. When water's scarce, they'll hang on to water waste and simply excrete the urates, which look like white toothpaste.

13. They can smell with their throats.
Like other reptiles, tortoises detect the faintest of smells with the vomeronasal organ, or Jacobson's Organ, on the roof of their mouths. Instead of flicking their tongues, they pump their throats to circulate air through the nose and around the mouth.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Girl Turtle or Boy Turtle - How to Tell

It's a boy, err, uhh... You won't be able to tell a tortoise's sex until it reaches a certain size, which varies by breed. The most obvious tell is the plastron—for mating purposes, it's flatter on females and curved on males. Males also tend to be larger and have longer tails.

If you're a tortoise owner who prefers surprises, just wait for your pet to come out of his or her shell. Males will eventually display their private parts while soaking. And it's not uncommon for females to lay eggs, even without a mate to fertilize them.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

No Place Sacred

Is there no place on this property that I can have some peace and quiet? I mean, really. Season is just over and there's no place to hide. #winterdepression

Friday, October 31, 2014

How to Ninja

If you are going to ninja, you should do it right!
Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

My Cousin: The Florida Cooter

Florida Cooters are large turtles, ranging in size from 9 - 13 inches, and are flatter in appearance than the similar slider turtle (Trachemys scripta). Their carapace has a dark background with a yellow or orange pattern. The plastron has no markings, and there are hollow oval markings on the marginal scutes. The yellowish orange stripes on the head do not form "hairpins," as in some of its close relatives. The Florida cooter is very similar in appearance to the Peninsula cooter (P. peninsularis) and River Cooter (P. concinna).

Florida River Cooters lazing with a friend

Range and Habitat: Florida Cooters are found throughout the Southeastern Coastal Plain and prefer permanent waters with soft sandy bottoms and abundant vegetation, such as ponds, lakes, swamps, marshes, and slow-moving rivers. They are frequently observed basking on logs.

The cooter is mainly herbivorous and inhabits lakes, sloughs, ponds, slow-flowing streams, and other still bodies of water with soft bottoms and abundant aquatic vegetation. However, it can be found in high densities in some Florida spring runs, usually in heavily vegetated areas with little flow. This species is active year-round and spends a large portion of the day basking on logs.

Flordia Peninsula Cooter
Coastal cooters are frequently exported for consumption and the pet trade, with about 60% wild caught individuals and 40% captive bred. Recent protection by many southeastern states has curbed this exploitation but illegal harvest for local consumption may still threaten some populations.

Fun Fact: Peninsula cooters construct an unusual 3-hole nest, digging one deep center hole and shallower ‘false nest’ holes on either side. The female lays most of the eggs in the center hole, putting only one or two eggs in each of the false nests. The false nests are thought to distract predators from the main nest, although in most cases predators appear to find all three.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Post-Life Turtledom

Several tombs in Lingshan Islamic Cemetery (Lingshan Park) in Quanzhou, China are classic Fujian "turtle-back tombs"; others, of a hybrid variety, with the central "turtle back" replaced with an Islamic-style sarcophagus.  Graves are mounded in the form of a turtle's carapace, surrounded by a horseshoe-shaped ridge. There are apparently complicated feng shui reasons beyond this design.

Monday, October 6, 2014

My Cousin: The [rare] Black Breasted Leaf Turtle

The Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle, (Geoemyda spengleri), is a very small (carapace length to about 4 inches), primarily terrestrial leaf litter turtle that occurs in southern China and northern Vietnam.

Few data are available regarding its life history or population status. The species prefers mountain forest habitat and apparently rarely enters water. Many individuals have been exported from both China and Vietnam via the live pet trade, and this trade appears to have reduced populations of the species.
Found in China and Vietnam and distributed in southeastern China, including Hainan Island, and northern Vietnam.

The Black Breasted Leaf Turtle in action!


Status – IUCN 2010 Red List: Endangered (EN A1cd+2cd) (assessed 2000); CITES: Appendix III (China).

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

My Cousin: The Hinge-Back Tortoise

The Hinge-back Tortoises, as they are commonly called, develop a hinge that allows them to close the rear of their carapace, protecting their back legs.
Hinge-back tortoises appear to be typical tortoises on first inspection but Hinge-backs are considerably longer than they are wide, more closely resembling a Red-footed Tortoise than a Leopard Tortoise, for example. In overall size this species are on the smaller end of the tortoise range.
Hinge-backs possess the elephantine feet associated with tortoises, although the front feet are not quite as blunt as the rear. Their forelegs usually have a series of enlarged, downward-pointing scales while the rear legs lack these scales. In these chelonians the head is only of medium size, while their tail ends in a nail-like spike. Of course, the Hinge-back's distinguishing characteristic is the unique hinge that develops in adults at the rear of the carapace, between the seventh and eighth marginal scutes.

Hinge-Back Tortoise enjoying a salad!
The carapacial hinges allow the tortoises to clamp down the rear of their carapaces, giving increased protection to their tail and legs. Hinge-backs also have effective defenses for their front legs and head. When threatened, a tortoise can retract its head quite far. Its front legs then seal the anterior opening in the carapace; the knees meet in front of the head with the feet pointing to either side. The enlarged scales on the forelegs face outward in this position, protecting the legs themselves and effectively closing the tortoise off from the world.
The Hinge-backs inhabit a diverse array of habitats in central and southern Africa, primarily in grassland and savannah regions, although some individuals can be found in coastal forests. These regions often go through times of drought, and Bell's Hinge-back burrow underground to survive these periods. This tortoise has large anal sacs which can be filled with water, taking up a large percentage of the abdominal cavity, to help it during the dry season. This stored water may be used by females when building nests to help loosen and moisten the soil in and around the nest.
Hinge-backs are omnivorous feeders in the wild. In addition to greens, they consume snails, insects such as millipedes and beetles, and will scavenge corpses when encountered. In captivity they will eat a wide variety of vegetable matter, including green beans, broccoli, squash, mushrooms, and bananas. They readily take mealworms and mealworm beetles, cooked chicken, and liver. Earthworms are relished; they are grabbed, whipped from side to side, and swallowed rapidly.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Saturday, September 6, 2014

My Cousin: The Beale's Eyed Turtle

The Beale's Eyed Turtle (Sacalia bealei) is a species of turtle in the family Geoemydidae, named in honor of Thomas Beale, a Scottish naturalist and merchant in China. Most commonly called a "four-eyed" turtle, the spots on the head of this species appear to be another set of eyes.

The Beale's Eye grows up to around 6 inches in length and in the wild, they feed upon carrion, snails, beetle larvae, earthworms, water plants and fruits. They can be found in woodland streams and brooks in southern China from Fujian to eastern Guangdong Province.

This species is listed as endangered by the IUCN, since these turtles are hunted for use in folk medicine.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Hawksbill Harry Says Hello

Hawksbill turtles have been hunted extensively for their shells which make attractive tortoise-shell jewellery, brushes, eyeglass frames and rings. In some parts of the world such as China and Japan, the hawksbill turtle is also eaten as a delicacy. So badly decimated are the hawksbills that these turtles are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Don't Try This at Home

... or anywhere, for that matter...

(not sure what is going on in the rear portion...)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Loggerheads Come Ashore

Watch as thousands of loggerhead turtles make their way to the beaches to nest in Oaxaca, Baja California. You can learn more about loggerhead sea turtles at Turtle Time, Inc.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Goombah's in Town

He doesn't seem happy. I don't have an answer to make him happy. Trouble ahead.

Friday, August 15, 2014

T-Rex Cozy

Mama goes to all this trouble to help me disguise myself from Fritz.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Thursday, August 7, 2014