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ENC Biology Students Help Endangered Turtles

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TurtlesStudents in the ENC Biology Department have an exciting new way to help protect and conserve God's creation.  Prof. Twining has made arrangements with the Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife's Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program to headstart three Northern Red-bellied Cooters (/Pseudemys rubriventris/) for the next nine months; a species of turtle that is endangered in the State of Massachusetts and a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act.  Headstarting refers to raising a species through the most vulnerable phase of its life cycle so that it can reach maturity and reproduce.  This is very important for threatened and endangered species where population numbers are very low, making it difficult for adults to find mates and for enough of the young to survive to continue the species.

The cooters are currently less than two inches long, but will grow to be about 10-12 inches in length and weigh up to 10 lbs.  They will be kept in warm water and fed constantly so that they will reach maturity faster.  In the wild, the northern population of these cooters is found in isolated areas of Plymouth County, where they live in ponds with abundant aquatic vegetation and sandy areas along the bank for nesting.  They can be seen basking on logs to increase their body temperature.  These turtles are threatened by loss of habitat due to development in the region, pet predation, collection, pollution, and road mortality.  Juvenile mortality is high due to predation by skunks and raccoons that are often found in greater numbers around human habitation.

The students involved in ENC's Animal Caretakers Team will be responsible for caring for the turtles.  This team also cares for a number of educational animals in the department, including snakes, lizards, salamanders, frogs, and invertebrates.  Raising the turtles is a great way to help an endangered species make a comeback from the brink of extinction, and gives the students practical, hands-on experience in conservation and animal husbandry.