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A Hidden Gem in the Forest

July 22, 2022

A Hidden Gem in the Forest

- as seen by -

Micah Siegel Micah Siegel

The wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) is one of North America’s most endangered turtle species. These secretive reptiles inhabit a variety of environments, from temperate forests to rolling fields to farmland. Provided they have access to freshwater streams, a wood turtle can be happy just about anywhere within their range, which straddles southeastern Canada and the northeastern United States.

Unlike many aquatic turtles who rarely leave the water entirely, wood turtles are well adapted to life on solid ground. They can travel great distances in a single day but can navigate back to where they started should they so choose. Still, they are rarely more than a few hundred feet from the water. A shallow stream is their refuge in the sweltering heat of summer, and it is where they hibernate come winter.

Ever the generalist, wood turtles are not picky about what they have for dinner. Vegetation, small vertebrates, mushrooms, slugs, fruit, earthworms, and all manner of insects are some items you may find on the wood turtle’s menu. Wood turtles have been observed displaying an exceptionally charming hunting technique – the worm stomp. Scientists have witnessed the clever wood turtle stamping on the ground, perhaps to mimic the sound of rain, thus encouraging unsuspecting earthworms to the surface.

On one sunny July morning, I happened upon this female crossing the path in front of me. By the looks of her face, she appeared to have been enjoying a nutritious breakfast of slugs. She was kind enough to allow me to take a few photographs before scuttling off into the grass to continue foraging.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post is in honor of National Zookeeper Week, July 17-23, 2022, a time to recognize our keepers’ hard work, conservation efforts, and passion in caring for animals.

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