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The Nature of Things: A Conversation with Shelby Shelldon, the Eastern Painted Turtle

Our staff never knows who they’ll meet when they’re out in the field!

Eastern Painted Turtle

In a rare moment, the notoriously reclusive Chrysemys picta granted the DLC’s Karissa Stokdal an exclusive interview about what it’s like to be an eastern painted turtle living in Dutchess County.

Would you introduce yourself please?
Hi, I’m Shelby Shelldon! I’m a Chrysemys picta, more commonly known as the eastern painted turtle. I have a dark body with red and yellow stripes. The top of my shell is smooth and dark grey, but my underside is orange and yellow! You can find me in freshwater ponds, usually sunning myself on a log.

How old are you and how long do you live?
I am about 25 years old and under healthy habitat conditions, I can live to be 55 years old!

What do you like to eat?
I eat lots of aquatic vegetation and algae, but I never turn down a worm, fish or insect. They’re delicious!

How do you protect yourself?
Well, first, I have my strong outer shell. But my best defense is my habitat. When a predator is nearby, I plunge into the water for protection.

Do you hibernate?
You bet! During the winter, I hibernate by burying myself at the bottom of the pond, where I can stay for five months without oxygen!

Where do you live?
Personally, I live in this wetland surrounded by this farm here in Amenia. Unlike many turtles who migrate, my species has a very small home range and I’m entirely dependent on my pond. Fortunately, my landowner protected the farm that surrounds my pond ensuring that my pond will never be filled in or used as a building site. There will always be a good-sized buffer between any new structures and my wetland. Thanks to my landowner’s concern for their land, my aquatic home is safe from development and so am I!

But, sadly, the lives of many eastern painted turtles are cut short because of urban sprawl. The constant threat of habitat loss is why I decided to give you this interview because it’s important for us turtles to speak out.

Are there other issues you’d like to talk about today?
Roads are especially dangerous to our kind. As I’m sure you know from our friend the hare, we move very slowly. Our hard shells are no match for a car! Sadly, each year countless numbers of us turtles are killed while trying to cross a road. Please watch out for us! We can often use a helping hand getting across, but it’s important to keep us pointed in the direction we were going!

Saving land means saving turtle habitat. You can help!
Make a gift now.

Why do Turtles Matter?

  • They keep water habitats clean by eating algae, plants, and decaying matter;
  • They help plants to flourish by ingesting and distributing their seeds, some of which have better germination rates after passing through a turtle;
  • Their burrowing habits contribute to soil maintenance;
  • Their eggs serve as food for predators; and much more.

To learn more, check out the new article: Where Have All the Turtles Gone, and Why Does It Matter?
from the October, 2018 issue of BioScience magazine, here.

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