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Let's talk turtle

Published May 31. 2014 09:00AM

"Did you see all the turtles?" Harry asked me as we whizzed on by a pond.

"No. And I don't think you saw any either," I smart-mouthed him back. "That's just a log with knobby things on them."

I should know. Ever since our friend Terri told us that she saw a whole bunch of turtles sunning themselves on a log in this pond last year, I look for them every time I drive by. The first time I drove by after she told us, I thought I saw a whole bunch and stopped the car. As I walked toward it, I could see that it was a log with a lot of knobby protrusions that made them look like turtles. So I doubted Terri's sighting, thinking she mistook them for turtles as well.

But Harry insisted there were turtles on the log. I said, "OK, turn around and show me."

Well, chalk one up for Harry. All this time I focused my attention on that one very visible log. It turns out, there is another log, closer to shore. On it there were about eight to 10 turtles basking in the sunshine.

I grabbed my camera and began walking toward the water. Plop. Plop. Plop plop plop. I watched in dismay as several of them slid off the log into the pond. About four others remained on another log. I got as close as I dared. But I don't have a strong enough zoom lens to get any great pictures. I did see several swimming about and realized this was a little Turtle Haven.

I looked up turtles on the Internet. I can't swear to it, but these might be Eastern Painted turtles.

They reach about 8 inches long, about the size of the largest one I saw. As I couldn't get close enough without scaring them into the pond, I couldn't see if they had any yellow plastrons (the bottom part of their shells).

These turtles prefer slow-moving to still-water habitats, just like the pond. They like crawfish and snails but eat aquatic insects, small fish, frogs, tadpoles and some aquatic vegetation. I know there are definitely frogs there because I heard one croaking as I ventured closer.

Eastern Painted turtles like to bask in the sun in large groups on banks and logs for quick getaways because it warms them up. They are cold-blooded, and the sun will kill any parasites and leeches. They are shy and reclusive, which would account for many of them slipping into the water as I approached.

They can live to be 80 years old.

I kind of chuckled when I read that courtship begins when a male follows a female until he meets her face-to-face. (Sounds a little creepy, but. ...) Then he strokes her face and neck with his elongated (get your mind out of the gutter ...) front claws, a gesture returned by a receptive female. (I don't know about you, but that works for Harry every time.) This is repeated several times until he invites her to his apartment under water to see his "etchings."

Turtle families do not hold shotgun weddings. That's because the sperm may remain viable in the females for up to three years! And ... and get this, a single laying of eggs may have multiple fathers.

I can just see a turtle family reunion conversation going something like this. "Hi. I'm Myrtle, Claude and Stella's daughter. And these are my Baby Daddies, Tom, Dick and Harry."

In my research on turtles, I learned a little-known holiday waddled on past us recently. World Turtle Day was May 23. Who knew?

Well, according to our old friend the Internet, World Turtle Day has been sponsored yearly since 2000 by American Tortoise Rescue to bring attention to, and increase knowledge of and respect for, turtles and tortoises, and encourage human action to help them survive and thrive.

Turtle Day is celebrated in many ways, from dressing up as turtles or wearing green summer dresses, to research activities, to saving turtles caught on highways. Let me see a show of hands of all of us who stopped the car, got out and picked up a turtle and moved it safely to the side of the road. Yup. Done it. Will do it again if necessary.

So next year on May 23, World Turtle Day, visit a bog, dress in green and recite my "Ode to a Turtle."

Turtle turtle in the bog,

Basking on a watery log.

Warmed by sun's ardent kiss,

I envy your summer bliss.

Turtle turtle of the bog,

Amid crawfish, snail and frog,

Sleep all night and swim all day,

In between is turtle play.

Turtle turtle from the bog,

Useful spoke in nature's cog,

Of God's creatures, great and small,

You win the race by a crawl.

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