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.