A journey into the eyes and mind of a naturalist.

Photography

Turtle Crossing

The common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) belongs to an ancient lineage of turtles.  If you could take a time machine back 80 million years ago you would recognize their ancient ancestors  as nearly identical to the modern form.  Snapping turtles have filled the same ecological niche since they first diverged from other turtles millions of years ago.  They are the garbage disposals of freshwater lakes, rivers, and wetlands.  They are opportunistic feeders, eating anything plant or animal, dead or alive.  I have watched them pluck mallard ducklings from the surface of the water and had them rob a full stringer of fish.  They are good at what they do.   It is this opportunistic nature that has allowed their continued success over the last 100 million years or so.   They survived the meteor impact that took out the dinosaurs and most other complex life.  The slow metabolism and opportunistic feeding habits of snapping turtles surely allowed them to survive the apocalypse at the end of the cretaceous.IMG_1629

Snapping turtles get their name from their aggressive nature when on land.   Unlike most turtles, snapping turtles cannot retreat into their shell for protection.  The bottom of their shell, the plastron, is little more than a skid-plate offering no refuge for limbs, tail or head.  To overcome this lack of protection the snapping turtle has an enlarged head and very powerful bite.  Alligator snapping turtles have been measured with over 1500lbs per square inch in bite force.  That is more than enough pressure to sever digits or inflict severe lacerations.

Instead of hiding in their shells they simply sit and wait for the fight to come to them.  A threatened turtle on land will position itself head toward the threat, raising the rear of its shell of the ground.  Get too close and SNAP!

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Watching a snapping turtle walk it is easy to image them strolling across a beach covered in dinosaur footprints.  There is something primeval about their gait and swagger that airs a confidence that even bipedal apes can appreciate.

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Despite their legendary bite and temperament, snapping turtles are quite docile when handled.  After a couple of snaps and wiggles, a turtle in  hand simply hangs on for the ride.  I have helped dozens of snapping turtle (and other species) cross the road.   The safest way to pick up a snapping turtle is to grab the carapace (top half of the shell) just behind the hind legs.  Get a firm grip and expect some claws to try to scratch you off.  This grip will be out of range of the bite despite the turtles best efforts.

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Snapping turtles have changed very little from the time of the dinosaurs.  There have not been any significant environmental pressures to affect change and they keep on doing what they’re doing.  They serve an important role in the freshwater ecosystems of the Eastern United States.  Provided compassionate and educated humans can help them across the road and give them a place to live I’m sure they will continue to thrive for millions of years to come.

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A Year in my Yard: Ditch Weeds and Hitchhikers

When I hear the word “flower” it brings to mind the day lilies, tulips, cone flowers and the other traditional flowers.  We tend to think of flowers as objects of beauty rather than the functional sex organs that they are.  We look out the window speeding past millions of sex organs, plain as day, in the ditches throughout the world.  We even consume the immature sex organs of many different plants (your broccoli will never look the same).

My point is, flowers may seem intricately beautiful as if place here only for our pleasure, when in reality, they serve only to perpetuate the plant species in the most efficient manner possible.

So here are some of those sex organs that we see baring it all on the highway and others who want to get intimately close to you.  Enjoy!

Curly Dock

June 21:  Curly Dock

Curly dock has these very simple flower head that will turn into a heavy head of dark brown seeds that look almost like tobacco.  I see these all over the roads here in Minnesota but have never known exactly what it was.

 

 

White Avens

June 29:  White Avens

On the road of life, there are hitchhikers.  Seeds will do best when they can get away from their parents.  This leads to the samaras, or helicopters, on the maples, the light fluff of a dandelion or even the buoyant nature of a coconut.  Other plants have a different strategy.  The White Avens, pictured above, produces hook like seeds that will attach themselves to any passerby.  I found this plant on a well-traveled deer trail in my backyard, quite literally a highway.

 

Burdock

June 30:  Burdock

Here is the king of all the plant hitchhikers, the burdock.  The little-hooked barbs of the seed are already formed on the flower.  These aggressive seeds will create large mats of hair in any mammal unlucky enough to get snagged.  I once found coyote tracks on my ice covered pond and you could clearly see where it had stopped and wiggled to remove 6 burdocks from its hindquarters, leaving only the seeds and a little hair behind.  An annoyance for the coyote was free transportation for the burdock.

 

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June 30:  Virginia Stickseed

This small flower is another hitchhiker with the surname of stickseed (you know it means business).  The seeds produced by the stickseed are small sticky burrs.  The stem branches are nearly perpendicular to the ground and each branch is covered with tiny sticky seeds ready to hitch a free ride.

 

 

Not all plants we commonly see on the side of the road are hitchhikers, some simply take advantage of the good sun and reduce competition from habitual mowing.

 

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June 30:  Yarrow

 

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June 30: Pink Clover

Here are two examples of flowers in my yard that are common on roadsides as well.  Unlike the hitchhikers these two thrive in the semi-maintained ditches across the Midwest because they offer the right light and reduced competition.

 

To finish here are a couple more pictures that don’t necessarily fit this theme but still need to be documented for my Year in my Yard project to document all the flowers on my property.  Enjoy!

 

lady's Mantle

June 29:  Lady’s Mantle

Bee Balm

June 29: Bee Balm

Golden Alexander

June 29:  Golden Alexander

hydrangea

June 30:  Hydrangea

Sage2

June 30: Sage