Saving the Native Turtles: Part One - Naturalist's Notes - Eva Varga

April 14, 20146

A few months ago, we enjoyed a nature walk with our Roots & Shoots group.  While the focus of the walk was on Bald Eagles, we also had the opportunity to observe a few native Western Pond Turtles basking in the sun. Sadly, their numbers were few.

native turtlesThrough anecdotes of her own personal experience and observations of the turtles in our local community, our Roots & Shoots leader encouraged the kids to help make a difference.  While we have always been interested in invasive species and have taken part in numerous community weed pulls in the past, she awakened a new interest in my kids.  

We have thereby begun a long-term project to increase public awareness and help save native turtles.  We began by learning more about each species and familiarizing ourselves with the problem.  The first task I assigned the kids was to do a nature journal entry on the Western Pond Turtle and to read an article that was published in our local newspaper.

Naturalist’s Notes

Photo courtesy of USGS

The Western Pond Turtle (Actinemys marmorata)

  • Lacks bright coloration on shell bottom which is usually a creamy yellow with some dark blotches
  • Top shell ranges in color from dark brown to olive
  • Head and legs are dark brown to olive
  • Grows up to 10 inches long
Habitat & Ecology
  • Inhabits a variety of aquatic habitats, including; ponds, rivers, reservoirs, streams, seasonal wetlands, and flooded gravel pits
  • Not fully aquatic; may spend part of the year in upland forests
  • Uses underwater hiding places such as undercut stream banks, mud substrates, logs, and dense patches of aquatic plants to avoid predators
  • Basks on logs and large boulders in the sun; an important behavior crucial for thermal regulation, digestion and other life requirements
  • Lives up to 40 years in the wild
  • Breeds from mid-May to late July, clutch size varies from 1-13 eggs
  • Females nest around 50 meters away from the water in short, grassy or weedy areas
  • Extends down the West Coast, from Southern British Columbia to Northern California
  • Eats mainly insects, larvae of caddis flies, dragonflies and nymphs
  • Also eats some plants and scavenges on dead meat
native turtle
Sweetie’s nature journal entry

Western Pond Turtles are a species of special concern. One of the causes of  their disappearance is the release of aggressive pet Red-eared Sliders into local ponds. The State of Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department banned the sales, importation and possession of Red-eared Sliders in 1996. Despite stoic efforts, advocates in California have failed to accomplish this in the last 20 years.

You Can Help

I will keep you apprised of our progress.  Our next step is to reach out to local resources agencies to learn more about native turtle habitats and efforts underway.  We will also plan to begin a letter writing campaign to prohibit the pet sale trade of Red-eared sliders in California.

You can help, too! Research what turtles are native to your area.  Are they endangered due to threats of an invasive, non-native species.  Write a letter to your state representative expressing your concerns for native turtles in your area.


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