Kimmie and I had a very fun and highly privileged view of North American freshwater turtle hatchlings recently at University of Louisiana Monroe (ULM) courtesy of the head of the Herpetology Department and Louisiana Master Naturalist, Professor John Carr. We had enjoyed John’s lectures on herps previously with the Louisiana Master Naturalists at ULM and Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and also on turtles at LMNA Rendezvous at Fontainebleau State Park. Recently we have been systematically studying local species from his excellent guidebook “Amphibians & Reptiles of Louisiana” co-authored with Jeff Boundy and raised questions about the Map Turtles ( Graptemys Sp.) he kindly agreed to show us some young Ouachita Map Turtles that he has raised in his lab!
On this occasion we all resembled masked bank robbers due to the COVID-19 precautions.
Among his other research and teaching work (now conducted with COVID-19 safety protocols), John hatches freshwater turtle eggs from various local sources to release back into those sources, thus sparing those clutches from predation by raccoons (Procyon lotor). Raccoons are adept nest raiders and have lost a lot of their natural predators in recent times and so represent a considerable threat to the nesting success of the native turtles. Professor Carr’s incubation work helps to acquaint his students with close study of live turtles and evens the odds for the turtles’ survival by returning them to the wild.
When we arrived, one of the faculty staff was there with a boxed mature Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) that she’d rescued from crossing a busy road in the hope of saving it. Sadly Prof. Carr’s inspection revealed non-survivable damage.
Our spirits were raised when we were introduced to the lab’s latest cohort of hatchlings. We saw our first Razor-backed Musk Turtles, absolutely delightful, perfect little replicas of the adults and were thrilled to see one emerging, still in its shell.
We were thrilled to see the many dragonish forms of young Alligator Snapping Turtles from several nests! These were our first sightings of them too and we had never seen the amazing fringe-like texture of their shells as youngsters in photographs before.
It was exciting to see young Ouachita Map Turtles, with the wonderful ‘topographical’ markings that give them their name. We have seen these turtles basking on a log at the Bawcomville Recreation Area .
Another first for me was to see the Smooth Softshells (Apalone mutica) and rather handily, their tanks were side by side with the larger Spiny Softshells (Apalone spinifera) enabling a very clear comparison!