Playing shell games with turtles

2013-12-28T20:36:00Z 2013-12-29T23:03:13Z Playing shell games with turtlesSusan O’Leary Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
December 28, 2013 8:36 pm  • 

PORTER | Turtles with hinges, turtles with neon yellow necks, turtles with red eyes, and turtles with long nails all were on display Saturday at Turtle Time! at Indiana Dune State Park.

A small group — mostly children — gathered for the unique winter afternoon program to learn about the four kinds of turtles found in the park – snapping, painted, Blandings and box turtles — from Amber Ross, park naturalist.

“I’ve never been bit before, and I don’t want today to be the day,” said Ross, lifting a 1-year-old snapping turtle from a plastic container. “I’m just kidding — they don’t start snapping until they’re 5 years old.”

Kids got up close and personal and petted the turtles “with two fingers.”

Ross explained that Waltress, the 30-year-old box turtle, has a hinge in her shell that helps protect her body from predators.

“She’ll pull everything in,” Ross said of the endangered species. “She is very special, the only turtle that has this. It keeps her safe.”

Ross revealed turtle secrets, including how turtle enthusiasts can count the rings on a turtle’s shell to determine its age and that boy turtles have red eyes, while girl turtles have orange-brown eyes. Some turtles can weigh up to 50 pounds and live to be 100 years old.

Ross said the male painted turtle has long nails that he uses to gently scratch the female’s cheek in his mating ritual.

“I don’t know what would happen if you tried that with a girl in your class,” said Ross, to a young man in the audience. “She might like it, or you might get slapped.”

Ross said the “Turtleman” on Animal Planet’s “Call of the Wildman” television program does not offer sound advice on handling turtles. While the reality show celebrity advises picking a turtle up by its tail, Ross said handling a turtle in such a fashion can rip its spinal cord and cause permanent paralysis and death.

“We do not listen to the Turtleman,” Ross said.

Instead, Ross said, if you see a turtle crossing the road, you can pick it up by the rear portion of its shell and place it on the side of the road toward which the turtle is headed.

Most turtles you see “on the move” are females, said Ross, and it is their job to seek out a mate.

“Boy turtles are very territorial. They stay in area about the size of a football field their whole lives,” said Ross. “The ladies have to do all the work — it’s not fair, but that’s the way things work sometimes.”

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