The other evening, Chili, the Irish setter a.k.a. the great reptile hunter sounded the warning and I headed out to round her up. She was barking non-stop along the edge of the fence, which could mean rabbit, but given the area, a snake or turtle was more likely.
I trotted her off to the house and didn’t give it a second thought. Two of the other dogs were already inside. About an hour later or so, I called for Tanner, the English setter to come join us, as it was starting to turn dark. No response! I called again, giving him the treat signal and still no dog.
I put on my garden shoes and headed out to track down my boy, who often will just be staring into the backyard with visions of rabbits on his mind. This time, though, he had something that seemed wonderful to gnaw on. “Ok, boy, you found a good stick?” On closer inspection, I realized that he had a mud turtle in his clutches. A quick command to “spit” and out popped the turtle and Tanner somewhat unwillingly headed into the house with me. Ahhh, mystery solved as to what Chili had spotted earlier.
I returned to the scene of the crime and picked up the mud turtle to examine for damage. He had some gnaw marks on the upper shell, but seemed no worse for the wear. The bottom was fine and the chipped part of the shell was an old injury…worn down and still caked in mud. I gently took my new friend and placed him in the dog-free area…the pollinator garden section under some nice vines. From here he could easily find the back pond or stay in the coolness of this soft dirt area. I checked about an hour later and he was gone, so Tanner didn’t do any lasting damage.
The next day when I released the troops, I decided that I better go check the area next to the fence. It wouldn’t be the first time that a turtle returned to the dog area after I moved it to safety. I looked down and spotted a smaller turtle, with less of a mud covering. On this one three light stripes were evident, so I knew we had some Striped Mud Turtles (Kinosternon bauri).
These turtles are aquatic, but spend a considerable amount of time on land. Small in stature, they rarely reach more than 4-5 inches long. The one that Tanner found was very encrusted with mud and given that the stripes weren’t apparent is likely an older member of the species, which normally have their stripes fade.
I’m not sure of the sex of my newfound friends since that is distinguished by the length and thickness of their tails and neither one was wagging it at me. Males are said to be smaller and some consider this species “drab and undistinguished”. Rather judgmental, if you ask me. I prefer to think of them as “smart to blend in”.
Diet is said to include cabbage palm fruit (Sabal palmetto) and juniper leaves. They also eat algae, snails, insects, and dead fish. Seems they also have been known to check out what’s cooking in the cow dung [gag].
The initial area they were found in is right next to the saw palmettos (Serenoa repens) and since I don’t have any cabbage palms that are fruiting, maybe they expand their fruit intake to this similar palm species since there are considerable amounts of dried seeds scattered on the ground below. This is also a slightly muddy area where storm water heads off into the culvert. My lot also has lots of snails and plenty of insects to choose from.
So, we can add mud turtle to our list of turtle species visitors, which includes Florida Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri), Peninsula Cooter (Pseudemys peninsularis) and Florida Softshell Turtle (Apalone ferox). I wonder who’ll be next.
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