Friday, October 18, 2013

River Cooter

I am on the trails at Bull Creek almost daily and see the usual turkey and deer.  Our nephew Jon comes down for a few days twice a year and invariably finds something neat.  This weekend it was a river cooter, a species known to live in the southern half of Missouri although not previously reported for Christian County.

The river cooter, Pseudemys concinna, has an olive brown shell, called a carapace, with concentric yellow markings.  It is curved upward on the edges and the ventral surface (plastron) is a pale yellow with occasional markings on the forward surface.  The males have exceptionally long nails on the forelegs.

The cooters are usually found basking in the sun on logs.  They dine on aquatic plants, occasionally spiced up with a side of snails, crayfish and aquatic insects.   The name "cooter" may have come from slaves, derived from an African word "kuta" which means turtle.

I assume this one is a male, or else it had just been to the mall for nail extensions.  They have an interesting mating habit, luring the female by displaying the length of their nails.  This is another guy thing, like deers' antlers and turkeys' tails, where bigger is better.  The male will vibrate his claws in front of the female, stroking her face.  If she accepts the offer, they drop to the bottom to mate.  Like all turtles, the female cooter will emerge onto dry land to lay her eggs a few weeks later.

They have several other interesting characteristics.  They cannot swallow except under water, although they will take food from land with them into the water.  In colder climes, they will lay dormant under the mud for up to two months.  During that time they don't breathe but can absorb water through their cloaca.*

* The cloaca is a single opening for intestinal, urinary and reproductive functions.

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