Photo of the Week – October 14, 2011

Back in June of this year, I went up to The Nature Conservancy’s Broken Kettle Grasslands in northwest Iowa for a meeting on prescribed fire.  As we were starting a field tour, a group of us was walking from the parking lot to the hills when we spotted this tiny little turtle (about the size of a 50 cent piece).  I hung back and followed it around with my camera for a few minutes before catching up with the group again.

A very small painted turtle at The Nature Conservancy's Broken Kettle Grasslands.

Painted turtles are common but fascinating creatures with lots of interesting natural history trivia – especially related to temperature.  First, the gender of turtles is determined by the temperature of the eggs in their underground nest.  Males are produced in cooler temperatures, and females are produced in warmer temperatures.  A second temperature-related fact is that painted turtles hatch out of their eggs in the fall, but remain underground through the winter and emerge in the spring, surviving temperatures down to at least 5 degrees F.  They eat the shells they hatched out of and, apparently, get some nutrition from the surrounding soil minerals.  Finally, the basking that painted turtles do in the sun not only helps them with thermoregulation but also activates enzyme production for digestion of their food.

Oh, and they’re cute too.

4 thoughts on “Photo of the Week – October 14, 2011

  1. Helena James October 14, 2011 / 11:15 am

    Are these the little turtles that were popular kids pets (toys??) in the Fifties? Glad to know we didn’t wipe them out. As I recall they used to be for sale at fairs along side of chameleons…it was a less enlightened age.

    • Chris Helzer October 14, 2011 / 1:02 pm

      Helena – yes. And I don’t know that we’re any more enlightened now… http://www.petsmart.com/product/index.jsp?productId=3893803

      Can you imagine buying some little kid a pet turtle that will live 30 years or more??

      Fortunately, painted turtles are kind of the crows of the reptile world (along with garter snakes) and their populations are doing very well, even in highly human-impacted areas.

  2. Dan Fogell October 14, 2011 / 1:58 pm

    Nice note Chris…and nice image. I’m headed up to BK next Saturday for snakes…can’t wait to play with them. :)

  3. Mel October 14, 2011 / 3:58 pm

    Surprised these guys are still being sold. I thought the Salmonella scares back in the ’70’s would have been enough to kill the market.
    Most of the turtles I see are on logs in a pond, and I usually only see the splash! This one must have been much less skiddish around people. He looks pretty determined, doesn’t he?

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