Welcome back, race fans, to the annual Turtle 200! It’s been a year since the armored beasts took to the track. We have a good lineup of reptilian racers for you today, all tuned up and ready to roar down the track at a breakneck quarter-mile an hour. You can hear all the action right here on KRTR 99.9 FM, Critter Radio. Tension is mounting!
There’s quite a crowd watching the action from the turtle bleachers. They crane their necks for a better view as the competitors plod past.
Every stadium has that one guy, right? Big, pushy, late to the party, he has to climb over everybody to get to his seat. Today it’s a Red-bellied Turtle throwing his weight around amongst the smaller patrons.
The Red-bellied Turtle, sometimes called a Red-bellied Cooter, likes deep water with a sandy or muddy bottom and lots of aquatic vegetation. They sometimes hang out in the sun with Painted Turtles and Red-eared Sliders, but they are much larger. They are distinguished by their reddish plastron, the lower shell. Red-bellied Turtles are listed as a threatened species in Pennsylvania. Loss of habitat is taking its toll, as is nest predation, road mortality when females come on land to lay eggs, and competition with the exotic Red-eared Slider.
Here we go, fans! Coming into the first turn is an Eastern Box Turtle. Surprising to see him in the lead. Box Turtles are known to be particularly slow, which is saying something when you’re talking about turtles. Look at the domed carapace (upper shell) on this guy!
Looks like he’s made the turn safely. He was really pulling those Gs though!
The look on his face says it all.
This Painted Turtle shows some uniquely beautiful markings as he strains his neck going around the curve.
FUN FACT: A few species of turtles have an eye stripe like this. A fellow photographer pointed out that, no matter what angle the head and neck are, that eye line is always parallel with the horizon.
Wait! The Caution flag is up!
Seems we’ve got a three turtle pileup of Red-eared Sliders on the track.
Red-eared Sliders look quite similar to Painted Turtles, and the two species frequently sun together. The red stripe on the side of the Slider’s head gives it away. They don’t belong here; they are native to the Mississippi River Basin. But they are popular pets, and frequently released into the wild, so that they have become established throughout the country. They often out-compete other turtles, the hallmark of an invasive species.
Now we’ve got a green flag, we’re back to racing. A snapping turtle has lumbered into the lead.
This is one BIG turtle! They can reach 60 pounds. Everything about them, from their heads to their claws, is huge. You don’t want to get near their powerful jaws.
The Snapper meanders on down the track, dragging his very impressive tail behind him.
The White flag is up – it’s the final lap. A Diamondback Terrapin moseys toward the finish line.
She’s almost there…
…AND she’s pulling over for a pit stop. In an actual pit, which she’s digging herself to lay her eggs. Right in the road. Track managers frown on this type of behavior; it makes a mess for the grounds crew to clean up. In the meantime, this beautiful female has cost herself the trophy.
Diamondback Terrapins are turtles of brackish estuaries, tidal creeks and marshes. They are the only turtles in the country that live in water with a salt content between that of fresh and salty seawater. Population numbers are dropping due to habitat loss, and predation. Females crossing roads to lay eggs are killed by cars, they are collected illegally for the pet trade, and frequently drown in commercial crab traps. Numerous conservation programs are trying to help these beautiful turtles.
Now another Snapper is gliding toward the finish line…
Oh, the drama! The Snapper had the finish line in his sights, only to be passed by a Painted Turtle in the last few yards as the checkered flag waves.
There’s your winner, folks: the Painted Turtle has taken the coveted Turtle 200 Cup!
That’s another fine race in the history books. Don’t miss next year’s competition, brought to you by KRTR 99.9 FM, Critter Radio. It’s sure to be another nail-biter!
We leave you now, as always, with the words of the incomparable Ogden Nash:
The turtle lives ‘twixt plated decks
Which practically conceal its sex.
I think it clever of the turtle
In such a fix to be so fertile.