Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Crazy Cooter

The title of this post might suggest I am going to write about General Lee, Bo and Luke today. But the crazy cooter I am actually writing about are turtles. Specifically, the northern red-bellied cooter. The northern red-bellied cooter is a turtle listed on the federal threatened species list and on the state endangered species list. The species once had a range along the east coast but now is confined to some ponds in Plymouth County, Massachusetts. Habitat loss from residential construction has been one of the major causes of the decline of this species. Herbicide that has runoff into the water has also been cited as an issue for this species.

The Massachusetts Heritage and Endangered Species Program has a novel program to help bring back populations of the northern red-bellied cooter. I saw this program in action this weekend when I went to the Green Briar Nature Center in Sandwich, MA. They run a program called Headstart and it is intended to give baby cooters a fighting chance to survive. Under this program, nature centers and schools volunteer to raise cooters from hatchling size starting in September and then release the developed turtles in the spring into natural habitats. Hatchlings start at the size of a quarter but soon grow so quickly they can consume a head of lettuce a day. Hatchlings are easy prey for predators such as skunks and raccoons and the probability of survival in nature is small. The Headstart program helps hatchlings grow in a safe environment and then releases them once they are large enough to avoid being easy prey.

I found this to be a tremendous idea and a great learning opportunity. As we are remodeling the environmental studies classroom for the new Environmental Studies Major, I thought raising an endangered turtle would be a much better addition to our classroom than raising tropical fish. Yesterday, I called the state coordinator of the program to ask if Lasell could participate in the program. I am anxious to hear his reply.

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