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.