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Spiny Softshell Turtles in Downtown Jamestown

Posted by on Aug 28, 2013

Spiny Softshell Turtles are big, strange-looking animals. They are probably unlike any turtle you have seen before. They’re also quite rare in New York and are considered a species of Special Concern. It is quite amazing that it is possible to find a dozen adult females basking in downtown Jamestown in a matter of minutes, until you realize why they are so concentrated here: they are all centered on the last remnant of marginally suitable habitat for them to lay their eggs in.

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Nesting here is extremely difficult as years of gravel and other debris has been packed down and is quite tough to dig in. Normally they would be digging into soft dirt and mud, easily able to create a hole for their eggs and cover it sufficiently to prevent predators from finding at least some of them. Because of decades of development in this busy industrial area the “Spinys” have very little opportunity to reproduce. We have been monitoring their population all summer long, determining peak counts of males and females, locating other nearby breeding areas, and trying to determine the status of this population. Are they isolated entirely? Do they have any young or juveniles among them? Where do they prefer to feed? What would be the best location for them to attempt to nest? And most importantly, how can we help this New York conservation priority species succeed?

The best part of the story is that the people who live and work in the area seem to all know about and love the turtles! During every visit we take to monitor them we encounter people who want to know why we are looking at them, or people bringing children to see them, or others telling us about years of enjoying them. We hope to work with the local community and businesses in downtown Jamestown to better understand and aid the Spiny Softshell Turtles in every way we can.

 

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator

Photo © Twan Leenders