Another freshwater turtle we found in the Las Vegas wetlands was the Red-Eared Slider turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans). This turtle is not native to this area. It is bought as a pet but as with many pet owners, they irresponsibly release it into the wild when they don’t want it anymore. We counted as many as 15 turtles in this pond. The danger is that invasive species may out-compete native turtle species causing a decline or eradication of the native Spiny Softshell turtle.
When water temperatures drop below 10 degrees Celcius (50F) turtles are generally not active but brumate. Brumate is a form of hibernation. They will sleep on the bottom of the pond, awaken, swim to the surface, possibly drink water and then proceed back to the bottom. The process repeats itself periodically. During brumation, they do not eat.
Las Vegas had a cold spell with temperatures around freezing at night. There was some snow which is unusual here. This is why we were surprised to see these turtles sunning themselves on the rocks in the early morning. These turtles should not have been as active as they were considering the weather conditions.
Red-Eared Slider turtles can live for 20-30 years. The shell (carapace) averages between 15cm (6 inches) and 30cm (12 inches) in length. Females generally are larger than the males. A large female can lay up to 30 eggs and may lay up to 5 times (clutches) in a year.
We were looking for the spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera), a native species, in the rivers around Las Vegas. Got some tips from a few local people on where we might find them and after 3 days of searching, we found this unusual turtle. Not sure we would find them as the temperatures had been near freezing which is often when turtles brumate (a type of hibernation for reptiles).
The turtle has an unusual tube-like protruding nose which makes it different from any other turtle we have photographed. It has a thin body and the shell (carapace) is somewhat flexible. Near the head, on the edge of the shell, there are some small spines and hence the name spiny softshell turtle.
We discovered them on some rocks on the far side of a fast-moving river. They were larger than we anticipated. The shell averages 40 cm (15 inches) but can be much larger, especially in females. Apparently, they can live for about 50 years.
At about 10 years of age, these turtles will begin to mate. This occurs mid to late spring as the temperatures warm. On average, the female deposits about 20 eggs on the sunny banks of the river generally in a sandy area or a gravel bed.
Like many turtles, they consume a wide variety of food. Insects and various types of vegetation make up a large portion of their diet as well as fish. They will often bury themselves in the river bottom and wait for a fish to pass by and then ambush their prey.
We spent the first day of our safari in the Western Corridor of the Serengeti. Our first stop was the Grimote River where we had great encounters with both crocodiles & hippos. A few of the crocodiles we came across were enormous and it quickly becomes apparent that these animals need to be respected. The hippos seem so docile and almost harmless. However, about 2900 people get killed each year from these animals. There is so much diversity in the Serengeti and we are photographing so many different species. Each day we will share some of our photos.
We had a bit of time before our flight back to Canada so we thought we would share more of our photos of this very photogenic Japanese Giant Salamander. Please enjoy!
During the last two days we had a once in a lifetime opportunity to swim with the Japanese Giant Salamanders in the mountain rivers of Japan in the Gifu area. These salamanders can reach 1.5 metres (5 feet) in length and weigh up to 25 kg (55pounds). They generally hide under rocks and in crevices but if you are patient you may have a chance to photograph them in the open for a brief period of time. Tricia had just that situation and is busy getting some excellent photos.
We would like to extend our thanks and sincere appreciation to Ito Yoshihiro, our salamander expert and guide. He spends numerous hours learning and studying them and was willing to share his expertise with us. Great job Ito-san! Also, thanks to Andy, of Big Fish Expeditions, for organizing this trip.
As you can see there is a wide variety of colours which is partly dependant on age. It is believed that they can live up to 80 years in the wild. It seems a bit surreal to have driven into the mountains of Japan, prepared our cameras, put on our wetsuits and spent time in the river interacting with these interesting creatures. It was a nice change from photographing sharks.