What You Can See on May 4
Submitted by Ted Williams on Thu, 05/04/2006 - 06:51.
From Audubon’s Earth Almanac by Ted Williams and compiled in “Wild Moments,” edited by Connie Isbell, Illustrations by John Burgoyne, Storey Publishing, 174 pages. The glowing yellow undershell, the splashes of scarlet on neck and carapace, the yellow stripes on head and eye—it all seems too much, as if some grade-school artist had gone wild with high-gloss enamels. Two months ago, while frogs still slept, North America’s four races of painted turtle—probably our most abundant, widespread, and beloved freshwater reptile—began to mate, males swimming backward ahead of the females and tickling them in the face with their long foreclaws, then dropping with them to copulate on the muddy bottom. In May and on into high summer, look for females on their way to sunny, sandy nesting sites. Follow one, taking care not to get too close, and watch as she plants her front feet, then digs a four-inch hole with her hind legs. She’ll deposit as many as 20 eggs, then cover them. As with other reptiles, the sex of the developing embryos is determined by temperature. The cooler the nest, the more males; the warmer, the more females. Late-season hatchlings may overwinter in the nest, emerging the next spring in perfect health, despite the freezing of more than half their body fluids.