I just spent a good part of the last two weeks with dinosuars.
No I’m not talking about the scary ones with lots of teeth. I’m talking about our little native dinosaurs that live right here in Central Virginia.
I am talking about “The Amazing Turtles of Virginia”
This year, my educational program, that I share with the local county Parks and Rec summer camp program, included a photo of the newly found fossil that helps explain how digging in, helped turned the turtles ribs into his shell.
You see, 260 million years ago, the only animals that could survive were able to get out of the hot sun by digging into the earth, flying away or finding some other place to hide.
Our Turtles of today, well they evolved from those animals that learned to dig in.. and with the amazing super power of being ectothermic, they were forced to wait out the in-hospitable climate for possibly very long periods of time.
Weather was un-predictable. Finding food and mates nearly impossible. Survival depended upon adaptations. Other super powers began to emerged, and the turtles’ shell became more then a shield offering protection during digging, and became a tool to protect turtles from preditors.
Turtles evolved with the planet they live on and brumation, a period of winter dormancy in reptiles that occurs when temperatures fall below a level at which they can sustain normal metabolic
function, became a super power of survival. It is amazing to think just how much turtles depend on the climate of their specific geographical area, facing each day as the weather permits.
Female turtles began storing sperm for future use, and turtles of today can store it for up to 5 years, producing viable eggs years after being with a male, a super power that almost guaranteed survival. By the time 10 million years passed, turtles became the recognizeable scavengers we know today.
Well, yes. Although some turtles, mostly isolated populations, evolved to eat purely vegetarian diets, most turtles are Omnivors and will consider eating any organic material they happen upon, including dead things.
Our beautiful Eastern Box Turtle, once very common up and down the eastern seaboard, was considered the crab of the woods. No, they don’t walk sideways, but like crabs who scavage on the beach, Box turtles patrol their home territories always on the look out for a slug, mushroom or an easy meal, bones and all.
Box Turtles, like their name implies, are able to close themselves up totally inside their shells. No, they’e not making calls with their shell-phone or taking shell-fies, They close up their shells in the presence of danger. Not many native preditors can get a tightly closed box turtle shell open, and this techinique has served the Box turtle well for millions of years.
Things have changed for turtles world wide.
Some cultures have eaten some species to the brink of extinction, others we have wiped out with invasive species. Most turtles however, are suffering from habitat loss due to human encroachment, pollution, and illegal poaching for both the pet trade and human consumption.
And so it seems even with super powers in place,
turtles have met their match in the Human race. The Box turtle that closes inside his shell for on-coming traffic, has a slim chance for long term survival.
I Loved my short two week stint sharing “The AmazingTurtles of Virginia” with summer camp participants. I love introducing these children to some turtles that they have never seen, answering questions, telling them about life cycles and super powers, and helping a couple turtles gain better habitats along the way. It gives me hope that turtles have a future living among us
Turtles have inhabitated this space for millions of years. A committment from the human race is needed to preserve habitat, not only for the turtles but for future generations, who may never have the experience of finding a turtle in their own back yard.
Turtles are truly amazing. There is still so much unknown about them and their life and so much more to learn from them.
Turtles, are so deeply intune with the ebb and flow of the earth, that they have become one of the first indicators of the health of our planet. As we pollute the oceans and destroy woodland habitats, we kill turtles daily, while tens of thousands are killed on our roadways yearly. It is time to take action for the health of our planet, our future, and the future of all the earths inhabitants.
Please do your part… after all… it is: