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MA Press: Prepares cooters for the wild

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Posted by: W von Papineu at Tue Jan 11 09:43:16 2011  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by W von Papineu ]  

NORWELL MARINER (Marshfield, Massachusetts) 06 January 11 Turtle power: Norwell science center prepares cooters for the wild (Ruth Thompson)
Norwell: Like most youngsters, the four Northern Red-bellied Cooters currently in residence at the South Shore Natural Science Center enjoy eating and playing.
The sight of them paddling around in their temperature-controlled tank and indulging in feasts of lettuce are entertaining for visitors to the center but such activity actually serves a greater purpose.
The turtles are part of a head start program sponsored by Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program, part of the Mass. Division of Fisheries and Wildlife that gives the turtles a better chance of survival.
Northern Red-bellied Cooters, fresh-water turtles that are primarily isolated to the Myles Standish State Forest in Plymouth County, are on the endangered species list.
As part of the program, the hatchlings spend their first several months of life in warm aquarium environments in various facilities across the state such as schools, nature centers and zoos. Once the reach a size where they have more of a fighting chance, they are released back into the wild.
“They are only an inch at birth,” said naturalist and the science center’s animal curator Karen Kurkoski. “It makes them a nice tasty morsel for some animals.”
Kurkoski said while in their nursery at the center they would grow in eight months what would normally take four to five years in the wild.
“They’re fed 24/7,” she said. “By the time they are released into the wild in May they are six to eight inches.”
She said as hatchlings in their natural habitat they only have a 1 out of 200 or a .05 percent to1/2 percent chance of survival. Their chances increase to 70 – 80 percent when they get to three to four inches in size.
“They are only supposed to eat Romaine, green or red leaf lettuce because it’s nutritionally equivalent to the sort of food they would be eating in the wild.
“When they get larger they could go through two heads of Romaine lettuce a day,” Kurkoski said.
The center is grateful for Stop & Shop in Norwell who for the past four years has been providing donations of lettuce to feed the cooters.
“I’ve gotten to know the produce department pretty well,” Kurkoski said of Stop & Shop.
The water in the tank stays at about 86 to 87 degrees and there is plenty of UVB light to keep the hatchlings warm.
And where they would go into hibernation over the winter, as part of the program they don’t have that hibernation period and instead stay awake and get to keep eating.
“This is a non-threatening environment free of predators with every opportunity for them to grow,” Kurkoski said.
She pointed out it is illegal to catch, harm or keep the cooters, or any endangered or listed species.
Public Relations Director Judy Azanow said a turtle that was head-started by the center in 1988 was found in early spring 2007.
“It had died due to an “ice out” on the pond during the winter,” Azanow said. “Its shell was enormous and in good condition – a success story for the program.”
The turtles will be weighed and measured each month. Careful records are kept to track their progress.
Otherwise, they are not handled or treated as pets.
“There’s not a lot of interaction,” Kurkoski said. “We’re just temporary nursemaids.”
Visitors to the South Shore Natural Science Center can watch the baby cooters get bigger over the next few months.
For more information on the science center, check out the website
Turtle power: Norwell science center prepares cooters for the wild


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