Thursday, May 24, 2012

Turtle Life: Part 1 The first year of life for a turtle

Use your imagination for a moment, and put yourself in the shoes (or shell!) of a painted turtle during the first year of life.

Mom is digging you a nest!
The first few weeks of May:  You are a fertilized egg of a turtle, only a few cells big.  You are inside your mother, along with 10 other eggs who will be your brothers or sisters.  Each day, your mother is swimming around the slough, trying to eat as many aquatic insects, carrion, and aquatic vegetation as possible.  She needs this food so that she can supply you with a large amount of nutritious yolk.  This yolk is very important for you, because you will not eat a real meal for about 1 year!  Your mother is also trying to bask in the sunlight as much as possible so she has the energy to dig you a nest, somewhere on land.

May 24:  Today is an important day for you and your siblings. It is sunny, and warm, and mom spends all morning basking.  Around 5pm, she crawls out of the water.  She could crawl out only a few meters, but she doesn’t.  Mom walks out of the water and starts looking for just the right place to nest.  Which place is right?  Well, this is a challenging question!  Raccoons, skunks, foxes and coyotes would love to dig up her nest, and might even try to eat mom if they get the chance- so hopefully she can find a place where you and she can both avoid the predators. 
You and your siblings, buried with care in the nest!
She also needs to be concerned with your development.  She can’t sit on the next like a bird can or protect you from predators, so the only thing she can do is choose a good place.   If its too hot or cold, you won’t ever make it, but she can’t control the weather either.  So she has to choose a nest that will hopefully be the right temperature, but you may be at the mercy of the weather.  Also, if your nest is very warm, you and your siblings will all become sisters.  If your nest is cool, you and your siblings will all become brothers.  Perhaps your nest is in the middle, and you will have some brothers and some sisters!    

The covered up nest- well camouflaged from Raccoons.
Mom chooses a sunny place about 50 meters from the river.  She begins to dig. Your mother has extremely sharp claws and powerful hind legs.  She also has drank a lot of water, which she now releases on the nest as she digs, to help moisten the rock hard soil.  She carefully carves out a cavity about the size of a racquetball, with a narrow opening at the top.  Then, out you come!  You are no longer in your mom, but in the ground.  Your eggs is about the size of a grape, but mostly yolk.  You are still just a few cells large. She carefully packs you in, and covers you up, and crawls back to the water.  Since you are in an egg, and haven’t even developed eyes yet, it is possible you will never ever see your mother, because she is gone and isn’t coming back!  But she has done what she can to give you what you need to survive.  But this is just the beginning of a long year ahead of you!    Find out what happens next?

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