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Into the Outdoors: Critters

This week, I thought it might be nice to do another “critter column.” We have a lot of turtles along the river. For the most part, they are cute, peaceful laid back little creatures. There is one exception, however, which is neither cute nor especially laid back, and that’s the snapping turtle. Known in some areas as loggerheads, they are easily recognized by the large head, small plastron and long, saw-toothed tail. I do have to say, however, that they are cute when they are babies.

Snappers will eat just about anything, including fish, reptiles, birds, mammals and plants. While rather shy and inoffensive in the water, they’re downright mean on land. Their powerful jaws can inflict a painful bite. They are often eaten fried, or in soups and stews. The photo shows just how big snappers can get. I took it a number of years ago at the Carlos Avery Wildlife Area in Minnesota. When I walked up to snap the photo, the turtle showed no fear. It didn’t try to get away. It didn’t even retreat into its shell. It just stared at me and hissed a couple of times.

Eastern wood turtles are one of our most common species. This is one of the most terrestrial of all our turtles. While quite at home in the water, it often wanders through woods and farmlands in search of food. The shell is rough in appearance, and there’s orange on the neck and legs. Omnivorous, they feed on whatever they happen to come across. Although they were commonly eaten in the early part of the twentieth century, they are no longer valued as food.

One of the neatest of all turtles is the box turtle. These are the little characters that look like a walking army helmet. Box turtles are found only in North America. Like the wood turtle, the box turtle wanders on dry land, and often falls victim to traffic on the road. I’ve rescued a fairly large number of them over the years. They are, I think, one of nature’s most gentle and inoffensive creatures. When you move one off the road, you really feel as though you’ve done a good deed.

Box turtles are kept as pets more frequently than almost any other turtle. They adapt well to captivity. All they need is some dirt to dig in, and a little water for drinking and soaking. They do well on fruits, berries, raw hamburger and even canned dog food. The best idea, though, is just to enjoy them in their natural habitat where they belong. Besides, there are probably rules against keeping them.

On another front, nothing is more a part of a summer night than the firefly, or “lightning bug,” as most of us call them. They are actually a type of beetle, rather than being true flies. They are found in open woods, meadows and yards. The eggs are concealed on the ground, and the larvae hatch in the spring. After the summer and fall, the new crop will spend the winter in the pupal stage just below the surface, emerging as adults the following summer. Both the male and female have a flashing greenish light. The light is flashed every 2 or 3 seconds in flight, and is used as a means to attract mates.

Here in this part of Pennsylvania, we are fortunate to have a potpourri of nature, including both flora and fauna, all around us. Sometimes, I think we take them so much for granted that we fail to fully enjoy them. That’s unfortunate.

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