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April 11, 2009 - Babes in the Woods, and Waters, and Cockroach boxes...

They say, (whoever "they" are) that Spring is a time for rebirth. It's also a time for just plain old birth! Look at this good looking little fellow! At Springbrook Nature Center the stork brought us a couple baskets of joy the other day. One was this soft-shelled turtle baby, which I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's a Spiny-softshelled turtle, although it could be a Common Softshell. 
The book (Amphibians and Reptiles of the North Woods) says the difference is that the Spiny has yellow stripes behind the eyes and mouth, and somewhat "C" shaped nostril holes, where the Common has round nostril holes. The "Spiny" comes from the females having a ridge of short spines on their upper shell (the carapace) behind the head. The males have more round or solid "spots", whereas the females generally have a mottled camouflage pattern of irregular shapes.
This turtle is so young it's hard to tell from both the nostrils and spiny edges. It definitely has the stripes. It was probably born within the last week or two at the very most. This seems pretty early for baby turtles of any type in Minnesota right now, we're just getting into the 50F's on a semi-regular basis, with near-freezing temps at night still.

Turtle doodle. The Softshells are so-called because of their soft shells (!), compared to the relatively hardshell helmets of almost all other turtles. As you can see from their bottom, the plastron (bottom shell piece) is VERY soft and very small, making it a vulnerable area for them. You don't often get this view of the softshells, they know it's a vulnerability and are protective of their bottoms. They don't have teeth, but the jaws themselves are pretty sharp and can clamp down with a lot of force. They also have sharp claws which mostly used for manipulating food and digging nests, but can do some damage when trying to pick them up. Note also the large webbed feet, which make them great swimmers. This is a good thing because they spend probably 80% of their time in the water. They also have specially adapted tissues near their cloaca (um, that is, their bum) and throat which allow them to absorb oxygen through their skin while underwater.
This gives them the ability to stay under water for very long periods of time, reaching into hours. 
They are surprisingly fast on land as well, as I think they feel safer in the water and beat ass to get back to their comfortable habitat as soon as they can. They usually lay their eggs very close to water. They will also bury themselves in the mud in the warm silty shallows of rivers and lakes deep enough so that their long necks will just barely allow their snorkel noses to break the surface of the water, so as not to give away the position of the entire animal. Kind of the stealthy "Navy-Seal" of the reptile world.

Note the large webbed feet, and these are the fronts, the rear ones are usually even bigger.
I think they look a lot more like sea turtles than any of our other Minnesota varieties.
We have an adult Spiny at Springbrook now, and she's lived there a long time, I think on the order of ten years or more. She has the reputation of being an aggressive bad-ass with the other naturalists, but so far her and I seem to have a mutual respect for one another. I've been in her tank with my hands for cleaning and she's checked me out, but doesn't seem threatened or interested unless I have food (worms or minnows). She doesn't like to be handled though either. She hasn't lashed out, but you can tell she's not comfortable with it. The best method I've come up with to move her into a temporary tank is to scoop her out with a long-handled spaghetti colander. The water runs out and she is immobilized for a short time without being able to thrash around too much. Then when I put her in the new tank, the water lifts her up and I just take the colander out from under her. Al Dente.
She has interesting skin, somewhat leathery, not at all slimy. They say the males have coarser skin with a texture like sandpaper. All in all a very interesting animal, one of my personal favorites.
We also had a baby snapping turtle "show up," of about the same size on the same day that we go the Softshell. Since we already have three of them of all sizes and had those eggs hatch in the park last year, I think we will have to find a new home for that little guy.

The shells of the Soft-shells are nearly round influencing many to call them "pancake" turtles. 
They sure look at home in the water, you can be looking at a silty river bottom not seeing anything but mud and all of a sudden they lift off of like a Manta ray, and can spin a 360 on a dime in the water. We have them in the Mississippi River and in some of our larger, warmer lakes.

Then, just as I was digesting the miracle of turtle life, I went to mist our new brood of Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches.  Lo & behold!  A female seemed to have an egg sac protruding from her posterior. These things (the bugs themselves) are about three to four inches long, and the egg sacs are about an inch to an inch and a half long. They look almost exactly like a wax worm coming out of the animal's butt.
The interesting thing (to me at least) is that these cockroaches incubate the eggs in the egg sac, and then give "live birth" out of the mother, with about 10 -15 offspring at a time...
So what is going on with this egg sac hanging out of her butt...?
Well, from what I gather, the female will at times protrude the egg sac to re-arrange the eggs from a horizontal position to a vertical one, so that she can creep through a small space, or perhaps just as part of the natural maternal process, or to control their temperature. She then withdraws the sac back into her abdomen for further incubation, or if the eggs are "duds," she casts off the sac and aborts the little resource hogs. 
I'm not sure if these female insects have the ability to lay infertile eggs as snakes do, that is, eggs which develop WITHOUT male fertilization, "just to keep the plumbing working" as it were. Ahh, with every answer there is a question. That's the great thing about nature, the universe, and everything.
Whether the saying, "they're all cute as babies" will apply to these babes if these hatch, remains to be seen.
I looked for the egg sac the next day, and it was nowhere to be found...


buthidae said...

The turtle was "born"?
Is that akin to being "bitten" by a scorpion, or even a bee?
Neat pics, though.

dignature said...

Um, well. The turtle was hatched from a shell somewhere, but not at Springbrook, or from our female. Our official position is that we can't take in donated, abandoned, or "salvaged" animals and introduce them to our ecosystem... but um, we can purchase replacement animals from qualified sources... We'll just say these turtles came from a "qualified source." The stork being the form of that qualified source. There aren't that many baby softshells available, and it's pretty early in the season to expect these animals to live in the wild on their own, so the official ruling is that we are raising them for rehabilitation to be moved or released into "their proper environments" when and if they reach a stable condition.
Ahh, the fine print of the naturalist world. That's the thing that's frustrating about Spring, is it's the time that we get so many calls and people just bringing animals in that they think are abandoned, injured, or endangered; when if they would just leave them in their original environment for a few more hours or a day, things would work themselves out. Especially with birds.
It's a difficult situation, I know people have the best intentions and think they are doing the right thing, but in doing so they create a chain of events that can ultimately create more of a struggle for an animal that is already under a lot of duress and already with a low mortality rate in their first and early successive years. I feel it's another somewhat backhanded example of anthropomorphism, where we want to make all the animals take lives similar to those of humans, when in reality the ecosystems and the animals themselves are not "designed" to fit into that scenario.
I read a statistic the other day that said one species of owl had a "45 to 90% first year mortality rate." Makes you wonder how the species isn't doomed to extinction, but it made me want to do some research to see what the infant mortality rates of ALL animals including humans are and how they all stack up together... It's a struggle even when everything goes right(!)