Dicromantispa interrupta

Dicromantispa interrupta

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Darwinian Cooters

Returning home from my daily morning walk to the post office about a month ago, I spied a female Peninsular Cooter (Pseudemys peninsularis) in a vacant lot about 250 meters from the edge of Orange Lake. She was accompanied by four Common Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), three standing patiently beside her and the fourth in a tree. Unfortch, I didn't have my camera with me at the time.

Clearly, she was making a nest for the eggs she planned to lay, and the crows were hanging out waiting to see if they could snatch some eggs as they emerged from her cloaca. She had already dug the flask-shaped hole and may have been just about to lay the eggs when I came along. Ordinarily, I would have left them all alone with the forces of evolution, but this time my head swirled with thoughts:

"This turtle is too far from the water for the hatchlings to have a fighting chance to make it to water before predators spot them.

"Will the hatchlings even be able to find their way to the water in the first place? Mama can easily walk over lawn, but even clipped grass is taller than baby turtles, making it extremely difficult for them to walk through.

"The lady turtle has made a big mistake nesting in this spot. If I relocate her to a nesting site closer to the lake and safer, maybe I would be encouraging “bad genes” to survive and multiply? Perhaps I should leave it alone and let Darwinian evolution carry on? How else will turtles learn to cope with lawns and roads and an overpopulation of cats, crows and coyotes?

But NO!!! That is the wrong attitude. Humans have overpopulated the world and are driving down populations of many formerly common species. In the case of our freshwater turtles, we surround lakes with turtle killers (dogs, cats, lawnmowers, lawns, roads, cars, ...) and allow almost unlimited harvesting of what's left for export to China. Turtles need all the help they can get.

I carried the turtle back to my home and placed it where the soil is relatively soft, is well above the water table, and gets about a half-day of direct sunlight. I then placed her under a wood box having a wire covering and left her alone, hoping that she would make a new nest and lay her eggs under the relative safety of my watchful eyes and wood-and-wire box. Unfortunately, she lost the mood in the cage (duh) and didn't lay any eggs. Since I had to leave on an out-of-town field trip the next day, I released her on her own recognizance and hope she is doing well.