May Herpetological Happenings

Above: After successfully laying eggs, a yellow-bellied slider heads back into the pond.

At this time of year many turtles are moving up to dry land to lay eggs. They turn up in the most peculiar of places in their quest for the perfect spot in which to dig a hole and lay their eggs (According to Ornithopter Operator, John Hammons, a Yellow-bellied Slider was found on the Ornithopter one May morning).

yb turtle
After having dug a hole with her hind legs, a Yellow-bellied Turtle (Slider) deposits her eggs along the path between the entrance to Explore the Wild and Catch the Wind.

Museum staff often encounter Yellow-bellied Turtles walking down the paved path in Explore the Wild or Catch the Wind while they (the turtles) are heading for the Wetlands after depositing their 4-12 eggs (snapping turtles usually lay from 20-30 eggs).

yb turtel tracks
The double dotted lines on the pavement were made by a Yellow-bellied Turtle heading back into the Wetlands.

Sometimes the turtles are disturbed before they can lay their eggs, leaving an empty hole.

yb turtle nest
This is the hole dug by the turtle which left the tracks in the above photo. She was obviously disturbed before she could complete her mission. The hole was directly behind the bench.

There were raccoon tracks leading to, and away from, the hole in the above photo, so perhaps it was a raccoon that sent the turtle back to the water prematurely.

Sometimes a hole is dug, but not covered.

turtle eggs
This set of eggs was left partially uncovered. I covered the eggs after photographing them, but found the nest dug up and void of eggs a few days later. I suspect that whatever caused the turtle to abandon this nest (with eggs already in it) had to be a significant disturbance.

Snapping Turtles have been up and about too.

A Common Snapping Turtle getting a breath of fresh air, and having a quick peek around the Wetlands before hauling out.

One hapless snapper was apparently wedged under a fence near the back entrance gate to the Butterfly House. The turtle was liberated with the help of “Deputy Rangers,” Dale, Al, and Cliff (Facilities Technicians Dale Hill, Al Gustafson, and Cliffton B. Hayes).

Good work men!

This snapping turtle was rescued and later sent on her way on the 15th of May after having been stuck under a fence. Snapping turtles have very long necks, powerful jaw muscles, and lightening fast reflexes, so don’t try to pick one of these guys up unless you know exactly what you’re in for.

On the gentler side of turtledom, there have been many Yellow-bellied Sliders and other Testudines out basking in the Wetlands.

This miniature Painted Turtle is sunning on a log next to the boardwalk in Explore the Wild.
musk turtle
An Eastern Musk Turtle, or stinkpot as they’re sometimes called, rests on a willow branch. They’ve been know to climb 6 feet up in a tree.

The first “new” American Toad of the season was seen on 15 May.

am toad
No longer a tadpole, this very tiny American Toad was seen hopping along in the leaf litter near the Lemur House. Note the pine needles for size comparison.

Eastern Narrowmouth Toads (Gastrophryne carolinensis) were heard in the Wetlands during the Butterfly Bash of 15 May. Don’t expect to see these very secretive and small (1-1.5″) toads, I’ve only seen two here at the Museum and both were young and fresh out of the water. They were both seen in July and were less than 3/8″ in length. But, who knows, you may get lucky, so keep an eye out. Have a look and listen here.

Gray Treefrogs have been calling with more frequency this month. Although they’re not as easily seen as they are heard, thunderstorms and rain bring them out in numbers.

gray treefrog
This Cope’s Gray Treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis) probably thinks that I can’t see it. It could easily be mistaken for a patch of lichen.
gray treefrog
This Gray Treefrog may need to rethink its hiding strategy, it’s quite obvious on the railing of the boardwalk leading down into the Wetlands.

And get a load of this little guy…

This little frog was seen on the pavement in Explore the Wild. It was hopping around in circles, apparently trying to stay off of the hot pavement in the 90º heat of the day. This peewee amphibian looks to be a Spring Peeper on its very first adventure out of the water.

A snake.

Early in the month, a young Northern Water Snake (approx. 10″-12″) was observed on a lotus pad on the north side of the Wetlands.

Could the young water snake in the photo be the same one that was rescued from the Bear House back in April? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s good to see that our water snakes are successfully breeding.

And finally, a skink.

grnd skink
A Ground Skink (Scincella lateralis) missing part of its tail. These skinks reach a length of about 6 inches, this one’s currently about 3.5 inches.

The skink in the photo must have had a run-in with a bird or some other predator, better to lose your tail than your life. Like most lizards, this lucky skink’s tail will grow back.

I’ve seen half a dozen or so Ground Skinks in the past week, most were quickly wiggling across the pavement to the safety of the grassy edge. Elsewhere, they are most often seen, or heard, as they scurry away in the leaf litter as you walk along a woodland trail.

Get out and have a look around yourself, and let me know what you see.

2 responses to May Herpetological Happenings

  1. Wendy says:

    Wonderful, as always. Love the turtle eggs and the turtle sunning with legs outstretched behind him! All are wonderful photo catches.

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