Red-bellied turtles weather winter at GHS

Red-bellied turtles weather winter at GHS

Mirandah Coulombe, a senior at Greenfield High School, holds out one of the endangered red belly turtles Cathy Wilkins, teacher of the permaculture class received Wednesday October 7. Wilkins’ permaculture class is a project-based environmental science class. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

When five Northern red-bellied turtles are released back into the wild this spring, it will be with five years’ worth of bulk under their shells, courtesy of a cushy fall and winter spent paddling in a warm aquarium and munching on lettuce at Greenfield High School.

At this stage in their lives the small endangered turtles, scientific name pseudemys rubriventris, are about the size of a 50-cent piece and make soft and tempting prey for all sorts of things.

One of the bearded dragons in the tank next door showed an almost frantic interest once the turtles were removed from their cooler and began swimming about in their new aquarium. Teacher Cathy Wilkins said the large lizard might want to eat them. The students present were almost equally interested in the small turtles, but for different reasons.

Seniors Max Pirozhkov, Mirandah Coulombe and Ben Padua are in the two different sections of Wilkins’ permaculture class, and showed up for the turtle delivery with student teacher Lauren Lynde.

“We have a bunch of different animals and we set up their habitats, create them, and it really gives people a feel for different habitats, different ecosystems,” Pirozhkov said, with Coulombe interjecting some of the words while patting a tiny turtle with her thumb. Let loose on the table, some of the turtles sat and stared owlishly at their surroundings, heads raised and making gulping motions with their throats. Others set forth immediately for the edge of the table and had to be corralled.

 The project-based environmental science class has small groups of students designing and maintaining habitats for different sets of creatures, then teaching their peers and fourth-graders at Four Corners what they have learned.

“It’s designed to get them all excited about science,” Wilkins said. The students agreed it’s working.

The benefit for the turtles is a higher chance of survival. The Department of Fisheries and Wildlife watches the nests of the colony in Plymouth and takes some of the young when they hatch, to be fostered through the cold season by select institutions then released back into the wild.

The turtles will eat lettuce donated by the French King Highway Stop and Shop. Wilkins said she and the students will not handle the turtles except to take regular measurements for the DFW.

Once they are set free they will be big enough to make tougher prey.