Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Turtles, Snakes and Brumation!

Our trip to Cincinnati for the holidays was lots of fun. In addition to trips to the Natural History Museum, Children’s Museum, and Newport Aquarium we attended two lectures offered by the Hamilton County Park and Recreation Board.

Raptors at Woodland Mound!

We observed 4 raptors that day: the Red-Tailed Hawk, Eastern Screech Owl, Barred Owl and Great Horned Owl. We learned about their predatory habits (day/night hunting, use of eyesight vs. hearing, size and types of prey, use of talons/beaks), their physical characteristics (feathers and markings, facial features, size and weight), and we discovered that that awesome sound an eagle makes in all of those Hollywood westerns is actually the call of the Red-Tailed Hawk! Who knew? Later we hiked on the nature trail and pretended to be owls hunting different small rodents. 

Snakes, turtles and brumation at Miami Whitewater Park!

We observed 3 turtles (2 Box Turtles and 1 Red-Eared Slider) and 2 snakes (Black Rat Snake and Fox Snake). We learned all kinds of things: Box Turtles get their names from their ability to pull all of their body parts into their shell, as if retreating into a box; they are omnivores (like us), who live mostly on land; females have flat bellies, males have a thumb-sized indentation on the belly; the scutes (circular scales on the shell) are shed like skin and grow in rings (like a tree trunk) each year - you can estimate a turtle’s age by counting the scutes on its shell; their backbones connect their soft bodies to their shells (which means that if they lose their shells, they die); Box Turtles can live up to 100 years! Brumation is the hibernation-like state that cold-blooded animals use during the cold weather: their circulation slows down, they become very lethargic and sleep, but not so much that they have to expend a lot of energy in order to eat, if they have to. They typically brumate in a burrow, rock crevice or, in the case of the Box Turtle, they use their back legs to dig deep into the leaf litter and cover themselves up.

For the rest of the week, we were playing “snakes in the cage” in Nana’s living room. Exhausting, but more stimulating than Super Mario.

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