Thursday, 19 July 2012

Tiny turtles take a big step (Map and Spiny Softshell Turtles in Lake Champlain) – via Herp Digest

Jun 29, 2012 By Cat Viglienzoni-

LAKE CHAMPLAIN - It's a big day for some tiny turtles on Lake Champlain-- they're taking their first strokes out into the water. But when you're a snack-sized turtle, Lake Champlain is a dangerous place.

"And it's kind of like an arms race with the predators," Vt. Fish and Wildlife Biologist Steve Parren said.

It's a race Parren runs in the fall. He has to get to the nests before something else does. Turtle eggs are a treat for foraging raccoons and skunks, and once the turtles hatch, they're vulnerable to other predators.

"And when the predators beat me the ground is littered with shells. I mean they can literally take out every nest on the beach," Parren said.

Vermont is the only New England state with a native spiny softshell turtle population, but the species is threatened. This site, where about 100 or so nest, is one of only two where the turtles breed. Biologists say there used to be more, until development encroached on the shoreline.

"We used to have a population on the Winooski River. That one doesn't exist anymore," Parren said.

An estimated 98 percent of hatchlings never make it to breeding age and many are picked off while they're small and vulnerable. And so Parren and ECHO Lake Aquarium staff are aiming to give these map turtle and softshell babies a head start by collecting them in the fall after they hatch, and then allowing them to grow indoors through the winter instead of hibernating.

"They are the same age. This one was kind of in suspension for about five-six months. So this guy got an extra, well, he's got an extra six months of growth, but it was six months of pampered growth," Parren said.

When these hatchlings were collected in September, they were about the size of a quarter. They don't look much bigger now, but every bit counts as they take their first steps into the lake.

A group of turtle enthusiasts gathered for the big send-off Wednesday, ready to release the youngsters into the waiting waters.

"I love turtles and plus I can't wait for them to be free!" said Logan Martin of Northfield.
Biologists don't know how many will ultimately survive, but they hope their efforts will give these tiny turtles a fighting chance.

"We just know they've won the first round," Parren said.

ECHO staff and biologists requested that we not tell you where the turtles were released, that way they are less likely to be disturbed or accidentally trampled by humans.

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