Don’t Let it Loose: Lessons and Resources to Combat Invasive Turtles

Families nationwide are getting excited about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. If your kids are asking for a Michelangelo or Donatello of their own, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.

The most commonly sold turtles in the U.S. are red-eared sliders, an invasive species in the Pacific Region and other parts of the U.S. They are illegal to own in Idaho, Hawaii, and Oregon.

Protect Native The red-eared slider, also known as the red-eared terrapin, is a semiaquatic turtle belonging to the family Emydidae. They get their name from the small red dash around their ears. The “slider” part of their name comes from their ability to slide off rocks and logs and into the water quickly.

As with other turtles, tortoises, and box turtles, individuals that survive their first year or two can be expected to live generally around 30 years. Understand that adopting a turtle as a pet is a life-long commitment.

Turtles can also carry salmonella, a hazard to immune systems. Before taking home a pet turtle, please consider the hazards and responsibilities of pet turtle ownership.

If you choose to welcome a turtle into your home, remember, Don’t Let It Loose! It’s bad for your pets and bad for the environment.

These turtles damage aquatic ecosystems and compete with our native turtles, like the Western painted turtle and Western pond turtle.

Check out the alternatives to pet release:

For further inquiries check out American Tortoise Rescue.
Don't Release

Invasive Species Resources

If you are interested in learning more about invasive species, the following online resources are a great start.

  • Invasive Species Lessons Plan – Adaptable for students in grades 3-12, students will explore the effects of invasive species.
  • Don’t Let it Loose – Come along on a virtual field trip to learn more about invasive species in South Florida
  • Invasive Species – Video podcasts from Explore Biodiversity
  • Ultimate Invader – Students learn about invasive species and in this activity design the ultimate invader

Turtle Lesson Plans & Resources

If you are interested in learning more about turtles, I’ve gathered a few online resources to help you begin your quest.

  • Sea Turtle Conservancy – Find facts about various types of sea turtles. Track sea turtle activity. Discover ways people are helping endangered species of turtles.
  • Share The Beach – This organization aides in the conservation and protection of nesting sea turtles on the beaches of Alabama. Great info about sea turtles. Tracking information. The site, also, includes information on how you can help in the the conservation of sea turtles.
  • Sea World – Sea turtle information on the Sea World site.
  • Lesson Plans – Sea Turtle lesson plans for grades 6-12 from
  • San Diego Zoo – Activities for grades 6-9 to learn about biodiversity, saving energy, and ecological footprint. This link defines the difference between turtle, tortoise and terrapin.

Happy Birthday, Dr. Jane from Roots & Shoots

April 3rd is Dr. Jane’s 80th birthday! Join Roots & Shoots groups around the world in sending her your birthday wishes by signing her online birthday card.

Dr.JaneSince Dr. Jane founded Roots & Shoots in 1991, young people and their adult mentors have been making positive change happen in their communities. Many Roots & Shoots students draw inspiration from Dr. Jane’s story and are working together in support of her hopeful vision for our world.

In honor of Dr. Jane’s birthday, I have created a compilation video of some of the projects and endeavors we have undertook with our local Roots & Shoots group.

Happy Birthday, Dr. Jane!


If you would like to wish Dr. Jane a happy birthday and let her know how her work has influenced you,  sign her global birthday card today!

Insect Hotels: Nesting Habitat for Mason Bees

The plight of the honey bee and other pollinators is of concern to me.  Insect hotels or habitat for insects is the perfect project for our Roots & Shoots group to show care and concern for animals.  It was also a great introduction  to service learning for my STEM Club kids.  I thereby invited both groups to join us for a day of insect revelry.

I began by introducing the kids to the Mason bee, the common name for a species of bees in the genus Osmia, of the family Megachilidae (Blue Orchard and Hornfaced the best known species). They are so named for their habit of making compartments of mud in their nests, which are made in hollow reeds or holes in wood made by wood-boring insects.

Unlike honey bees (Apis) or bumblebees, Osmia are solitary; every female is fertile and makes her own nest, and there are no worker bees for these species. The bees emerge from their cocoons in the spring, with males the first to come out. They remain near the nests waiting for the females. When the females emerge, they mate. The males die, and the females begin provisioning their nests.

Osmia females like to nest in narrow holes or tubes, typically naturally occurring tubular cavities. Most commonly this means hollow twigs, but sometimes abandoned nests of wood-boring beetles or carpenter bees, or even snail shells. They do not excavate their own nests. The material used for the cell can be clay or chewed plant tissue. One species (Osmia avosetta) in the palearctic ecozone is known for lining the nest burrows with flower petals.

Females then visit flowers to gather pollen and nectar. Once enough provisions have been gathered, she backs into the hole and lays an egg. Then she creates a partition of “mud”, which doubles as the back of the next cell. The process continues until she has filled the cavity. Female-destined eggs are laid in the back of the nest, and male eggs towards the front. Once a bee has finished with a nest, she plugs the entrance to the tube, and then may seek out another nest location.

By summer, the larva has consumed all of its provisions and begins spinning a cocoon around itself and enters the pupal stage. The adult matures either in the fall or winter, hibernating inside its protective cocoon. Most Osmia species are found in places where the temperature drops below 0°C for long durations, like Canada, and they are well adapted to cold winters.

insecthotelsBuild It & They Will Come

Maintaining Mason bee habitats or insect hotels can be a simple, yet powerful way for people of all ages to intimately connect with the awesomeness of nature. Mason bees don’t sting unless they’re squashed or squeezed so they’re kid and pet friendly and don’t require protective clothing or training to work with. Since they’re sociable but solitary, there’s no need to coax colonies into complex forms. A well-designed and well-built habitat with ample nearby pollen sources will naturally attract mason bees, can allow intimate year-round observation of their lifecycle, and especially for teachers, parents and community garden programs be a powerful real-world teaching tool.

Mason bees are increasingly cultivated to improve pollination for early spring flowers. They are used sometimes as an alternative, but more often alongside European honey bees. Most mason bees are readily attracted to nesting holes; reeds, paper tubes, or nesting trays. Drilled blocks of wood are an option, but do not allow one to harvest the bees, which is vital to control a build-up of pests.

I found the post, Housing Mason Bees at Bees, Birds, & Butterflies particularly useful as I researched the how-tos for building insect hotels.  You can also purchase pre-made insect hotels from a variety of sources.  For example, Esschert Design Bee House. The kids had a great time building their own and it allowed their creativity to show.  Most of the kids recycled materials (soup cans, two liter bottles, etc.) to create a cylinder to hold bamboo and paper tubes. Many of the kids stated they wanted to build a wooden frame around their tubes and planned to finish their projects at home.

Attract Pollinators with Native Plants

To help bees and other pollinating insects (butterflies) you should provide a range of plants that will offer a succession of flowers, pollen, and nectarthrough the whole growing season. Patches of foraging habitat can be created in many different locations, from backyards and school grounds to golf courses and city parks. Even a small area planted with the right flowers will be beneficial those with small yards shouldn’t hesitate to do their part.

  • Use local native plants.
  • Choose several colors of flowers; particularly attractive to bees are blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow.
  • Plant flowers in clumps.
  • Include flowers of different shapes. Bees are all different sizes, have different tongue lengths, and will thereby feed on different shaped flowers. 
  • Have a diversity of plants flowering all season.

Contact your local extension agency to learn what plants are native to your area.  You may also find useful fact sheets provided by The Xerces Society.

Additional books & resources:

Homegrown Learners

Our Local Bald Eagles: Liberty, Patriot, & Spirit

It wasn’t long after our move to northern California that we learned of Liberty and Patriot, the two iconic bald eagles that had began nesting near the Sun Dial Bridge in Redding in 2004. The two eagles have touched the hearts of Shasta County residents and a live webcam was installed in a tree adjacent to their nest so that the community could peak in on them each year. Many in the community have also stood behind the pair when Turtle Bay expressed interest in building a motel on the property where their nest resides. 

Bald Eagles
Each year the birds return, Liberty lays her eggs, and the pair migrates in July after their eaglets have fledged. In 2013, however, their story took a dramatic and somewhat surprising twist, as Patriot disappeared in March and a third eagle entered the picture, killing two of the couple’s freshly hatched eaglets.

Patriot returned in April but died in May after fighting with another male, whom some believe is Liberty’s new mate, Spirit, who joined her in the fall.  Liberty laid her first egg with Spirit earlier this month. When we observed them on Friday, we were able to see Liberty move about in her nest with the aide of a spotting scope. However, we didn’t see Spirit during our stay.

bald eagle

Bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) are native only to North America. Our national symbol nearly became extinct in the 1970s, with only 419 known nesting paris in the lower 48 states. Thanks to legal protection and education, as of 2007 there were 13,000 nesting pairs. Shasta Lake, in northern California, is the most densely populated breeding spot with 22 pairs. In July 2007, bald eagles were removed from the Endangered Species List, but remain protected by other legislation.

  • Ninety percent of the bald eagle’s diet consists of fish, living or dead. They are at the top of the food chain. Humans are their only threat.
  • Bald eagles don’t get their distinctive white head and tail until they reach maturity between three and five years. Juveniles are solid brown and are often mistaken for golden eagles.
  • Nesting pairs mate for life and will continue to add on to the same nest year after year. The largest recorded nest is 30 years old and weighs over two tons.

Upon our return home, the kids illustrated an eagle in their nature journals as I read aloud some of the past news reports about the birds.  I also shared with them the facts above and they were encouraged to add these to their journal.

If you are interested in learning more about birds, read my post Bird Anatomy where you will find free printables and access to a PowerPoint Presentation.


Submitted to the Outdoor Hour Challenge at the Handbook of Nature Study.

Running with the Chinook

The Chinook salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, is the largest species in the Pacific salmon family. Other commonly used names for the species include king salmon, Quinnat salmon, spring salmon and Tyee salmon.  The fall run (July through December) is taking place now so we joined our Roots & Shoots group for a special outing to observe these magnificent fish in the wild.

Chinook salmon originate in rivers from central California to northwest Alaska and are harvested in ocean and river habitats.  The status of chinook populations in California and the Pacific Northwest varies; some populations are healthy while others are listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Salmon live in the ocean but are born and spawn in freshwater rivers and streams.  They’re extremely sensitive to a variety of natural and man-mande stressors, on land as well as in the ocean.  Changes in ocean and climatic conditions, habitat loss from the construction of dams and urban development, and poor water quality from agricultural and logging practices are just a few of the factors that have taken a toll on wild salmon populations, especially in the Pacific Northwest.  

We have seen a few salmon in our creeks and rivers in the past, but this was the largest number we’ve seen (at least in my recollection).  It was quite exciting – we even caught glimpses of them leaping out of the water but I wasn’t quick enough with my camera.

One of my favorite books on the life cycle of salmon is called Salmon Stream (Sharing Nature With Children Book) by Carol Reed-Jones.  I read this to the kids again after we returned home from our outing.  Inspired by the perseverance of these remarkable fish, my kiddos have started work on a series of letterboxes that will teach others about the salmon life cycle.  We plan to hide the boxes along the same trail we enjoyed.  

I also created a notebooking page or printable for the kids to illustrate the life-cycle in their journals. You can download it for free here, The Mighty Chinook.

International Day of Peace 2012

The Roots & Shoots tradition is to celebrate the Day of Peace with with signature Giant Peace Dove Puppets, which have “flown” by young people and the young at heart in cities, towns, and villages near and far. As Dr. Jane says, “With these humble creations made out of reused materials, we remind everyone that peace is possible. We celebrate all that is free and noble in the human spirit. And we celebrate all that so many people have done throughout the year—and will do next year—to create a better world.”

Following Dr. Jane’s lead as a UN Messenger of Peace, members and friends of Roots & Shoots are called each year to celebrate peace in honor of United Nations International Day of Peace.  We participated for the third consecutive year.

So, what is International Day of Peace? Per General Assembly resolution 36/67 and 55/282, the United Nations has declared this day as a day devoted to strengthening ideals of peace among people and nations. Officially the UN calls member states (countries recognized by the UN) to recognize the day with a global ceasefire. That means that all of the countries, if they are actively fighting, are asked to put down their weapons for a day in the name of peace. Around the world, recognizing the day can happen in so many ways.

Would you like to build a Giant Peace Dove of your own?  Follow this link for instructions … Create a Giant Peace Dove Puppet .  Consider sharing pictures (or a link thereof) of your dove with us in the comments.