If we could travel back some 200 million years to the Triassic Period-the "Age of Reptiles"-we would discover an animal similar to our present-day turtle. Unlike most ancient species of wildlife, which have either become extinct or evolved greatly in form, turtles have remained relatively unchanged through the ages.
|REPTILES PHOTO INDEX
Fence lizard, northern
Wall lizard, European
Brown snake, midland
Brown snake, northern
Fox snake, eastern
Garter snake, Butler's
Garter snake, eastern
Garter snake, eastern plains
Green snake, eastern smooth
Green snake, rough
Green snake, western smooth
Hog-nosed snake, eastern
Milk snake, eastern
Rat snake, black
Red-bellied snake, northern
Ribbon snake, eastern
Ring necked snake, northern
Smooth earth snake, eastern
Water snake, copperbelly
Water snake, Lake Erie
Water snake, northern
Worm snake, eastern
Worm snake, midwest
Box turtle, eastern
Map turtle, common
Map turtle, Ouachita
Musk turtle, common
Painted turtle, midland
Smooth softshell turtle, midland
Spiny softshell turtle, eastern
In Europe, these reptiles were originally classified as tortoises (land turtles), torrapins (hard-shelled freshwater turtles), or turtles (sea turtles). Since early turtles in the New World did not fall neatly into these categories, the meanings have been changed. The term turtle now encompasses all aquatic forms. Tortoise applies only to the land turtles and terrapin to any of the various edible turtles living in fresh or brackish water, particularly those of the genus Malaclemys, the diamondback terrapins. All, however, maybe correctly referred to as turtles.
The reproductive biology of turtles is fascinating. With the exception of softshell turtles, the sex of all species of Ohio turtles is dependent on the temperature at which the eggs develop. For instance, snapping turtle eggs that develop at about 77 degrees Fahrenheit will all hatch out as males, while eggs that develop at much higher or lower temperatures will all hatch out as females. In the wild, warmer eggs at the top of a nest may all hatch out as females, while cooler eggs at the bottom hatch out as males.
COMMON MUSK TURTLE
|Common Musk Turtle
Musk turtles, also known us stinkpots. seem to prefer deep, still water in lakes, ponds, and sluggish streams with muddy bottoms and an abundance of plant life. Their most distinctive marks of identification are the two bright yellow stripes on each side of the head. These turtles get their name from the foul odor they expel when first caught or teased. This odor comes from a yellowish fluid secreted by two gland openings on either side of the carapace (the upper shell). Like the snapper, musk turtles are strongly aquatic and are seldom observed out of water except to lay eggs, or occasionally during early spring to bask in the sun. Unlike most turtles, the female musk turtle is not particular about where she lays her eggs. She may place them on a rotted stump, in a muskrat house, or just about anywhere else above or below ground, just as long as water is nearby.
The common snapping turtle is the largest turtle in Ohio. Large specimens may weigh more than 35 pounds and have a carapace more than 14 inches long. Snappers seldom bask in the sun except in early spring; therefore, though they are very abundant they are not seen as frequently as most other turtles. Snapping turtles usually provide the fixings" for turtle soup.
Although the snapping turtle's powerful, keen-edged jaws are capable of doing great damage to a carelessly placed finger, stories of their snapping broom handles in half are greatly exaggerated. However, great caution should be exercised when handling these exceptionally bold and aggressive reptiles. They should always be carried by the tail, with the plastron (lower shell) toward your body, and well away from your legs.
This handsome turtle shows a marked preference for the shallow, sluggish waters of ditches, small streams, marshes, bogs, and pond edges, especially where vegetation is abundant. It occasionally wanders away from water and lives in wet woods and meadows. The spotted turtle is most frequently observed in early spring, basking along stream or pond banks, or on objects protruding from the water. When disturbed it may quickly dive for safety; or it may leisurely walk into the water and swim to the bottom, where it may remain motionless, burrow into the muck, or crawl beneath some sheltering object such as a submerged log.
This little reptile should be vigorously protected, for as man has destroyed its natural habitat by altering wetlands, the spotted turtle population has declined greatly throughout Ohio.
This is a rare turtle, known from only a couple of specimens in northeast Ohio, where it is on the edge of its range. Wood turtles are reddish orange on the neck and limbs, and are sometimes referred to as red-legged turtles. Although they prefer swampy-marshy woodland areas with cool streams, next to the box turtle they are our most terrestrial turtle. A good climber for, a turtle, it has been known to scale a six-foot chain link fence.
EASTERN BOX TURTLE
Terra pene carolina carolina
The high-domed carapace of the box turtle may carry a wide variety of markings. Usually it is dark brown or black, accented with some combination of yellow streaks or blotches. The box turtle gets its name from its centrally hinged plastron (lower shell), which enables both front and rear portions of the plastron to be drawn up tightly against the carapace (uppershell). This "boxes in" the turtle for protection. Found in woodlands throughout Ohio, the box turtle is our most terrestrial turtle. During the heat of summer, this extremely gentle animal spends the day hidden beneath rotting logs, decaying eaves, and other plant debris, venturing out only during early morning or evening. A sudden shower after a dry spell usually will bring out box turtles in large numbers.
The greatest threat to Ohio's box turtles is the thoughtless driver who makes no attempt to avoid running over them as they lumber across the highway.
Ohio's Blanding's turtles are limited primarily to the northern counties along Lake Erie, where they inhabit the marshy shorelines, inland streams, and wet meadows. Although essentially aquatic, the Blanding's turtle often wanders about on land, but seldom far from water.
The most distinctive field mark is the bright yellow throat and chin, which can easily be seen from some distance away. Like the box turtle, the Blanding's has a hinged plastron; but it is not as functional as the box turtle's, because the front lobe of the plastron cannot be closed tightly. Unlike other species of pond turtles, this large but very timid turtle has no difficulty in swallowing food out of water.
This turtle is named for William Blanding, the early Philadelphia naturalist who first described it.
COMMON MAP TURTLE
The female of this species attains a carapace length of about 10 inches, while the male's seldom exceeds 5 inches. The map turtle's name is derived from the network of fine yellow lines that crisscross the carapace and vaguely resemble the lines on a road map. These lines are very noticeable on young specimens, but they fade with age.
Map turtles are extremely wary and show a marked preference for sizable bodies of deep water, such as large rivers and lakes, where they can dive to the safety of the depths. The broad, flat crushing surfaces of the powerful jaws are well suited for consuming snails, crayfish, and clams, which form the bulk of the diet. It is not unusual to see these turtles walking around under the ice, for they are among the very last turtles to go into hibernation-if they go at alland among the earliest to reappear in spring.
OUACHITA MAP TURTLE
Several specimens of the Ouachita map turtle have been taken in southern Ohio-in the Scioto River and associated oxbows. It is not certain if the species occurs naturally in Ohio, or if these individuals originally were captive. The uncertainty occurs because Ohio is on the eastern border of map turtle range, and many map turtles have been sold in the state for pets. The capture dates of some specimens argue for a naturally occurring population, but in any case this turtle is rare.
MIDLAND PAINTED TURTLE
|Midland Painted Turtle
Chrysemys picta marginata
Midland painted turtles are among the most abundant and certainly the most conspicuous turtles in Ohio. They are particularly fond of basking and can be seen by the dozens on logs and along the banks of most bodies of water through the summer. The deep green carapace is brightly patterned with red and black along the underside of the marginal plates. The patterns look as if they were painted on by hand. There are several subspecies of painted turtles in the United States, but only the midland painted turtle occurs in Ohio.
Although an occasional individual may attempt to bite when first captured, these turtles usually become very tame and make hardy captives. Like most highly aquatic turtles, they usually will not swallow food unless they are at or beneath the surface of the water.
With the coming of winter, midland painted turtles seek deep water, and burrow into the mud or debris at the bottom. The small amount of oxygen they need is absorbed from the water through the inner lining of the mouth and cloaca.
Trachemys scripta elegans
Here is the little green turtle that has been sold by the thousands in pet and variety stores. Perhaps the most distinctive marking is the broad reddish patch behind each eye. In rare instances, the red is replaced by yellow.
Although these turtles are common in areas far south of Ohio, isolated communities have been discovered in some northern states. Whether released captives or remnants of an ancient population from a warmer age, they manage to hold their own. Two such colonies of red-eared sliders have been reported in Ross and Pickaway counties.
EASTERN SPINY SOFTSHELL TURTLE
Apalone spinifera spinifera
The spiny softshell's body, instead of being protected by bony plates, has a tough, rubbery covering. At the front of the carapace is a row of small, conical spines that account for the name "spiny." What this turtle lacks in heavy protective armor, it makes up for in speed and disposition. It is every bit as aggressive as the snapping turtle and its swimming ability far surpasses that of other turtles.
|Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle
Although it can be found in lakes and smaller streams, the eastern spiny softshell is essentially a river turtle. It prefers relatively shallow water with a sand or soft mud bottom. A common habit of the softshell is to settle on the bottom by rocking from side to side, while flipping sand and mud up onto its back, completely burying itself. Usually it lies just deep enough for its long, pointed snout to reach the surface for air. However, the softshell does not have to get air from the surface. While it is submerged, it pumps water in and out of its mouth and pharynx. The highly vascular lining of the pharynx removes oxygen from the water and expels carbon dioxide into it.
MIDLAND SMOOTH SOFTSHELL TURTLE
Apalone mutica mutica
Unlike its eastern spiny relative, the smooth softshell has no spines or other projections on its carapace. Also unlike the spiny softshell, its nostrils are not ridged and its feet are not strongly spotted or streaked. The smooth softshell is limited primarily to southern and southeastern Ohio, where it inhabits the larger tributaries of the Ohio River, particularly the Scioto River.
As with the spiny softshell, the females of the smooth softshell are much larger than the males and lack a distinctive pattern of carapace markings.