Posts Tagged ‘turtle’

Photo: Zoo Leipzig.
The endangered Arrau, a giant South American river turtle, has unusual conversational attributes.

I remember a fad (perhaps it wasn’t a fad, perhaps it’s still going strong) of expectant mothers exposing babies-in-the-womb to classical music, art museums, and breathtaking scenery. The idea was to inculcate certain interests before birth. Turns out, there’s a turtle mom that does something similar.

Dino Grandoni writes at the Washington Post about turtles that “talk” to their babies before they hatch.

“Camila Ferrara felt ‘stupid’ plunging a microphone near a nest of turtle eggs. The Brazilian biologist wasn’t sure if she would hear much. She was studying the giant South American river turtle, one of the world’s largest freshwater turtles.

“ ‘What am I doing?’ she recalled asking herself. ‘I’m recording the eggs?’

“Then Ferrara — who works for the Wildlife Conservation Society, a U.S.-based conservation group — heard it: a quick, barely audible pop within the shells.

“The hatchlings seemed to be saying to one another, she said, ‘ “Come on, come on, it’s time to wake up. Come on, come on.” And then all the hatchlings can leave the nest together.’

“Researchers for decades thought of aquatic turtles as hard of hearing and mostly mute. … But recent recordings of these turtles’ first ‘words’ — before they even hatch — challenge notions not just of the turtles’ capacity to communicate, but also of their instinct to care for young. Now the discovery has spurred an urgent count of this talkative turtle’s numbers, and may shape protections. …

“Known locally as the arrau or tartaruga da amazonia, the giant South American river turtle lives throughout the Amazon and its tributaries. During the dry season, thousands of females at once crawl onto beaches along the river to lay their eggs. For other kinds of turtles, the mothering usually ends at the beach. Many turtle hatchlings are left by their parents to fend for themselves.

“But that’s not the case with the arrau. After nesting, females often hover by the shore for up to two months waiting for their eggs to hatch.

“So Ferrara and her colleagues wondered: are mother turtle and child turtle communicating with one another? To test the idea, her team spent months taping the turtles — on land and underwater, in the wild and in a swimming pool. The team recorded a wide repertoire of whisper-quiet calls from arrau of all ages.

“Embryos appear to chirp together to coordinate hatching and digging up to the surface. With so many jaguars and other predators lurking, it is safer for baby turtles to move en masse toward the river.

“The mothers, meanwhile, approach and respond to the calls of their young. Once the hatchlings reach the water, the baby turtles migrate down the river with the adult females, Ferrara’s radio-tracking research shows.

“When her team published an early study on turtle vocalizations a decade ago, Ferrara said, academic journals resisted putting the phrase ‘parental care’ in the title of a study about turtles. …

“But Ferrara and her colleagues have gone on to record vocalizations from more turtle species, including the pig-nosed turtle in Australia, Blanding’s turtle in Minnesota and Kemp’s ridley sea turtle in Mexico, one of the world’s most endangered. …

“Other researchers may have missed turtle noises since they tend to be quiet, infrequent and low-pitched — just at the edge of human hearing. Leatherback sea turtles, for instance, appear to have ears tuned to the frequency of waves rolling ashore. Some species can take hours to reply to each other.

Some species can take hours to reply to each other.

“ ‘Had we had a bit more expansive imaginations, we might have caught this earlier,’ said Karen Bakker, a fellow at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study who wrote about turtle vocalization in her book, The Sounds of Life.

“ ‘We’re looking for sounds in the frequencies we can hear,’ she added. ‘We’re looking for sounds at a temporal rate that is as quick as we speak.’ …

“As a group, turtles are more ancient than dinosaurs, and are central to many cultures’ creation stories. Yet today they rank among the species at most risk of extinction. Nearly three in five species may vanish, according to a recent assessment, with climate change, habitat loss and hunting posing risks.

“The Amazon once teemed with so many turtles, it was difficult to navigate. While Indigenous people have long relied on turtles for meat, the arrival of Europeans accelerated their decline. …

“The species still faces serious threats. A boom in dam construction threatens to cull their numbers. And a continued appetite for turtle meat sustains a lucrative illegal trade, where middlemen can buy an arrau for $50 and sell it downriver for $450. …

“For [Ferrara], the real fight is not in the field, but in the cities, convincing regular Brazilians to refrain from eating turtle meat. For her, changing the minds of just a few folks would be a victory.

“ ‘What I want is to see two or three people stop.’ “

More at the Post, here.

Turtles that take a long time to answer another turtle are like Bob & Ray’s Slow Talkers of America.

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Photo: Pandbambooguy.
Female box turtle digging a hole with her back legs to lay eggs. Eastern box turtles are a popular species in the illegal world of wildlife poaching. 

Unsurprisingly, Erik couldn’t believe that global criminal gangs selling endangered species had ties to turtle thieves in little old Rhode Island. I know. It sounds pretty implausible — and grandmothers do tend to sensationalize news stories to entertain the kids.

But it’s all true. Just ask the state herpetologist. (Who knew Rhode Island had an official herpetologist?)

As Frank Carini reported at ecoRI News this month, “Rhode Island’s reptiles and amphibians face pressure from numerous threats, and for many species, removal of even a single adult from the wild can lead to local extinction, according to the state’s herpetologist.

“Since the local and/or regional future for many of these species — eastern spadefoot toad, northern leopard frog, northern diamondback terrapin, to name just a few — is in doubt, removing them from nature to keep as a pet or to sell is against the law. It’s illegal to sell, purchase, or own/possess native species in any context, even if acquired through a pet store or online, according to Rhode Island law.

“Turtles are especially vulnerable, according to Scott Buchanan, who became the state’s first full-time herpetologist in 2018, because some species must reproduce for their entire lives to ensure just one hatchling survives to adulthood. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) staffer said it takes years, sometimes a decade or more, for turtles to reach reproductive age, if they make it at all.

“Buchanan recently told ecoRI News that ‘broadly, across taxa’ the illegal taking, or poaching, of wildlife is a ‘huge issue. … Globally, it’s considered one of the driving forces of population declines and even extinctions,’ he said.

“Wildlife trade experts and conservation biologists such as Buchanan point to poaching — driven by demand in Asia, Europe, and the Unified States — as a contributing factor in the global decline of some freshwater turtles and tortoises. …

‘Before you take a photo of a turtle in the wild, turn off the geolocation on your phone. If you post a turtle photo on social media, don’t include information about where you found it.’ 

“Of the 360 known turtle and tortoise species, 52% are threatened, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.

“A group of global turtle and tortoise experts published a 2020 paper that noted ‘more than half of the 360 living species [187] and 482 total taxa (species and subspecies combined) are threatened with extinction. This places chelonians [turtles, terrapins, and tortoises] among the groups with the highest extinction risk of any sizeable vertebrate group.’

“Turtle populations are ‘declining rapidly’ because of habitat loss, consumption by humans for food and traditional medicines, and collection for the international pet trade, according to the paper’s authors. Many could go extinct this century.

“Buchanan’s involvement in dealing with the impact of poachers is primarily around North American turtles. He noted turtle diversity is high globally and in the eastern United States — in the Southeast more than the Northeast, however.

“But state and federal law enforcement officials and wildlife biologists consider the illegal collection of turtles to be a conservation crisis occurring at an international scale, according to Buchanan, who is the co-chair of the Collaborative to Combat the Illegal Trade in Turtles (CCITT), formed in 2018 within Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation. …

“In Rhode Island, Buchanan said, there are four turtle species of concern: the eastern box turtle; the spotted turtle; the wood turtle; and the northern diamondback terrapin.

Eastern box (species of greatest conservation need): This turtle spends most of its time on land rather than in the water. They favor open woodlands, but can be found in floodplains, near vernal pools, ponds, streams, marshy meadows, and pastures. They reach sexual maturity by about 10 years of age. Females nest in June and lay an average of five eggs in open areas with sandy or loamy soil. Eggs hatch in late summer.

Spotted (species of greatest conservation need): These turtles are sensitive to disturbance. They are usually found in shallow, well-vegetated wetland habitats, such as vernal pools, marshes, swamps, bogs, and fens. …

Wood (species of greatest conservation need): For part of the year they live in streams, slow rivers, shoreline habitats, and vernal pools, but in the summer they roam widely across terrestrial landscapes. …

Northern diamondback (state endangered): Their population has suffered greatly due to poaching and habitat loss. They are found in estuaries, coves, barrier beaches, tidal flats, and coastal marshes. They spend the day feeding and basking in the sun and bury themselves in the mud at night. They reach sexual maturity at about 6. Females lay a clutch consisting of 4-18 eggs. Some females will lay more than one clutch in a season and hatching usually occurs in late August. The young spend the earlier years of life under tidal wrack (seaweed) and are rarely observed. …

“Other turtle species that can be found in Rhode Island include eastern painted, common snapping turtle, and eastern musk. …

“ ‘We have a lot of turtles for a small state,’ Buchanan said. …

“In late September environmental police officers from DEM’s Division of Law Enforcement found 16 eastern musk turtle hatchlings, a species native to Rhode Island and the eastern United States, in the home of a West Warwick man suspected of illegally advertising them for sale on Craigslist and Facebook.

“The case resulted from a week-long investigation, during which the suspect offered two hatchlings to undercover environmental police officers for purchase, according to DEM. The suspect was charged with 16 counts of possession of a protected reptile or amphibian without a permit. The turtles were taken to the Roger Williams Park Zoo, which has a room and equipment dedicated to the care of turtles seized from the illegal turtle trade. The turtles will be released back into the wild after clearing health screenings and disease testing, according to DEM. …

“To help protect Rhode Island’s native species, you can submit observations of amphibians and reptiles to DEM scientists online.”

More at ecoRI News, here. No firewall.

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Photo: NewsBeat Social/Youtube
“Seven years after conservation groups started a breeding program to save the Myanmar Roofed Turtle, 60 were released into the country’s river system,” says
Science Times.

Anytime a creature thought to be extinct makes a comeback, it gives one hope that other things can come back. We really shouldn’t minimize the importance of, say, the little fish called the snail darter that was the focus of a big fight. We never know what aspect of a biodiverse world will benefit us in the future. And, besides, we need metaphors.

I loved this story about a comeback for a rare turtle in Myanmar.

Liz Kimbrough reports at Mongabay, “Once considered extinct, the Burmese roofed turtle (Batagur trivittata) was brought back from the brink by an ambitious conservation program.

“Now, almost 30 years after its rediscovery in the wild, scientists have [published] photos and descriptions of hatchlings and eggs, as well as some background information about the conservation of the species [in] the journal Zootaxa by scientists from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Myanmar, Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), Global Wildlife Conservation, and Georgetown University.

“The Burmese roofed turtle is the second-most critically endangered turtle in the world. Once abundant, hunting and overexploitation of eggs has driven the population to near-extinction, with only five or six adult females and two adult males known to exist in the wild today.

“The species was presumed extinct until 2001, when researchers found the shell of a recently killed turtle in a village along the Dokhtawady River in Myanmar. Shortly after, a U.S. turtle collector found a living turtle at a wildlife market in China.

“Encouraged by these findings, researchers conducted field surveys to find the wild populations. After following locals’ descriptions of ‘duck-sized eggs,’ the researchers found living turtles in two separate rivers in Myanmar. However, the population had collapsed to a whisper. …

‘The biggest threat is that there are so few left in the wild and so if there’s an accident we’ve lost a big chunk of the population,’ Steven Platt, first author of the study and WCS associate conservation herpetologist for Southeast Asia, told Mongabay.

“ ‘Otherwise its mostly fishing. I worry about them getting entangled in fishing gear and drowning. And if we didn’t monitor, the eggs would be collected.’

“More than half of the world’s turtle and tortoise species are now threatened with extinction. Loss of habitat is their biggest threat globally, but turtles also face dangers from the pet trade, overconsumption for food and medicine, fishing, pollution, invasive species, and climate change.

“In an effort to bring the Burmese roofed turtle back from the brink of extinction, WCS and the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) in collaboration with the Myanmar Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry began a program to ‘headstart’ the species in 2007. Researchers and technicians collected eggs from wild turtles for a captive-breeding program. …

“The captive population is now approaching 1,000 turtles, and the species appears to be in little danger of biological extinction. The goal is to eventually release them back into their wild habitat in the Chindwin River.

“In 2015, WCS and TSA reintroduced some male turtles back to the wild, but reintroduced turtles can be hard to follow and locate in the river when the wet season rolls in, Platt says. For now, the team is trying a different strategy, keeping some of the turtles in floating cages in the river as a ‘soft release’ of sorts. The hope is that once the turtles become acclimated to the area they can be released and won’t stray too far.

“ ‘River turtle conservation is really difficult,’ Platt said. ‘Tortoises can move about a kilometer, or, normally just stay within a few hectares of where we release them, but these turtles, once they’re in the river, they can go up or down for several hundred miles if they just keep swimming.’ ”

Read more at Mongabay, here. And hope for other comebacks.

Photo: Myo Min Win/WCS Myanmar
Burmese roofed turtle shown moments after emerging from an egg collected from a sandbank along the Chindwin River and incubated at a facility in Limpha village, Sagaing region, Myanmar. See Platt et al.


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When you drop your cellphone on the subway tracks, who ya gonna call?

In New York City, you call the pick-up crew.

According to Matt Flegenheimer in the NY Times, the need for these finders is increasing as travelers seem more distracted than ever.

“The requests trickle through the bowels of the New York City subway system, funneled to workers more accustomed to calls about tunnel fires or ceiling leaks. A problem is reported at Columbus Circle one recent afternoon. A passenger could be in great distress. Delays are minimal, but movement on the tracks has perhaps never been slower.

“So would a crew mind collecting its helmets and hauling its mechanical claw to rescue the turtle — fumbled by a rider — currently plotting its very methodical getaway from Midtown train traffic?

“ ‘It’s a big city,’ a transit worker, Vinny Mangia, had said a day earlier, reciting a mantra of his office. ‘Somebody’s going to drop something.’

“And somebody, if the item is sufficiently treasured, is going to try to pick it up. These are the fishermen of the subway system, cobbling together homemade instruments to pluck items from the tracks and release them to a grateful city.

“Workers have returned a bag of hospital-bound blood and corralled a collection of artificial body parts, scooped engagement rings from the rails and reunited children with stuffed animals. …

“There is the occasional aggrieved passenger, chafing at the response time if a crew is traveling from another call at a far-off station. But almost universally, riders are appreciative. A few have tried to tip the workers, though they say they have never accepted.

“ ‘A little hug, we take,’ Leonard Geraghty said. ‘I usually tell them, if it’s a man: “Take your wife out. Have a good time on us.” ‘ “

More here.

Photo: Sally Ryan, NY Times
Bob Devine uses a mechanical claw to grab a book lost at 34th Street.

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“How did the turtle get its shell?” asks Carolyn Y. Johnson in the Globe.

“A group of scientists at Yale University and the Smithsonian Institution argue that a reptile fossil that has been gathering dust in museum collections is actually a turtle ancestor, and that its reduced number of ribs, distribution of muscles, and T-shaped ribs could help settle the question once and for all.

“In a paper published Thursday in the journal Current Biology, they unveil the argument that a 260 million-year-old creature called Eunotosaurus africanus was a turtle ancestor, hoping to help resolve a debate that has split the scientific community for decades. …

“The ink spilled so far has roughly divided the scientific community in two camps. On one side are those who believe that the turtle shell came about as external bony scales, similar to the ones found on armadillos or certain lizards, that eventually fused together with the reptile’s internal rib cage. On the other side are those who believe that reptiles’ ribs instead began to broaden until they eventually formed the bony protrusion that is the shell, mirroring the way that turtles develop in the egg.”

Which theory does the 260-million-year-old Eunotosaurus support? Read up.

“ ‘The results are pretty convincing; previously I was skeptical as to whether Eunotosaurus was a likely relative of turtles,’ [Kenneth Angielczyk, a paleobiologist from the Field Museum in Chicago], wrote in an e-mail. ‘But Tyler [Lyson]’s results make me think it is a plausible idea.’  ”

Scientists clearly have a lot of fun, but let me try a more Kipling-esque approach to the turtle question.

When the world was new, Oh, Best Beloved, the Turtle was a small, soft creature who played all day with other small, soft turtles on the banks of the great gray greasy Limpopo River all set about with Giant Eucalyptus Trees. He was timid. He was shy. He kept his distance from the great beasts of the jungle. But he was watchful, too, and he learned from what he saw. And so it happened, Oh, Best Beloved, that at the very day, hour, and minute that the Giant Python Rock Snake stretched out the stumpy nose of the Elephant’s Child, the Turtle felt a great fear come upon him. And he ran and rolled himself in the grease of the greasy Limpopo River all set about with Giant Eucalyptus Trees, raced to the most gigantic of the Giant Eucalyptus Trees, embedded his sticky self in the most gigantic of the Giant Eucalyptus Trees seeds, and there remained.

When he felt brave enough to stick his head out, he reported to all the small, soft turtles what he had seen. And thus the world gained not only a Turtle with a Shell, but the very first embedded reporter.

Photo: Luke Norton
This South African sideneck turtle bears a structural resemblance to the fossil of a creature called Eunotosaurus africanus.

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