What kinds of turtles live in Clove Lakes Park on Staten Island ?
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Clove Lakes Park is home to at least three species of turtles.
The eastern painted turtle and red-eared slider are often seen on rocks and logs, basking in the sun. While painted turtles are a native species, red-eared sliders are non-natives that were originally released by pet owners who weren’t prepared to care for them over the turtles’ 40-year life span.
The third species is the native snapping turtle, the largest.
Snapping turtles rarely sun themselves. Only the females come out of the water — and only once a year — to lay eggs.
Other non-native species occasionally show up as well, but many don’t survive our temperate climate.
When fully grown, the eastern painted turtle is between 5 and 6 inches long, measured straight from the front to back of the upper shell, or carapace. Its shell is black on the back, with bright red markings on the marginal scutes along the edges of the shell. Yellow and red markings also adorn the neck. The lower shell or plastron is yellow.
Male painted turtles can be distinguished from females by the length of the nails on their front feet. Males have very long nails, which are used only in courtship. The male swims face to face with a prospective mate, places his front feet an inch away from the female’s snout and wiggles his long nails rapidly.
It looks comical to us, but apparently is seductive to female painted turtles!
Like painted turtles, red-eared slider males also have long nails used to attract females.
Red-eared sliders also are larger than painted turtles. Females can reach a shell length of 12 inches, while males grow to about 9 inches.
Turtles don’t have ears; this species gets its name from the red stripe on the sides of its head where ears would be if it had them. The shell is green and black and tends to get darker with age.
Native to the southern Midwest from Texas north to southern Ohio and West Virginia, the red-eared slider is sold nationwide as a pet. Though the young turtles are attractive, many people are not prepared for a pet that will live 40 years or more. Once red-ear sliders reach a shell length of 6 inches, they have generally lost their earlier adorableness and become a chore for all but the most committed owners to keep and care for.
Many are released into our local lakes and ponds where they not only survive but reproduce quite successfully as well.
Unfortunately, red-eared sliders occupy an ecological niche close to that of the painted turtle. This puts the two species in competition for resources, especially food. In addition, sliders can carry diseases that may be fatal to the local painted turtles. As the red-eared slider population grows, the painted turtles decline.
Non-native species should never be released into the wild!
The snapping turtle is the state turtle of New York and is probably the most common type of turtle on Staten Island. They are rarely seen, however, since they prefer to stay underwater. Their shell is brownish-black and usually has algae growing on it.
While the upper carapace thoroughly covers the turtle’s back, the plastron protecting the belly is very small. This allows the turtle to take long strides as it walks across the bottom of a pond, but makes it impossible for the snapper to pull its legs and head into the shell for protection. Hence the aggressive posture and lunging when confronted.
Though turtles have bird-like beaks rather than teeth, the sharp edges of the snapper’s beak can deliver a nasty bite.
Just about this time of year, females of all three species will be leaving the water in search of a place to lay their eggs. Soft or sandy soil in full sun is preferred, but these turtles can dig holes in the denser soil as needed.
Snapping turtles wander farther than the other two, but all three often cross roads while seeking a nesting site. Snapping turtles are large enough to stop traffic, but sliders and painted turtles are more often run over. As a result, there are almost twice as many males as females in many local ponds, due to female fatalities that happen when they’re out to lay eggs.