Rarely Seen Babies Sighted at Lake McIntyre

- posted by Rosey Pounsett

At the end of February, one of the Lake McIntyre volunteers noticed someone walking around the lake take an interest in something on the ground. She went to investigate, and to her delight she discovered five tiny turtle hatchlings, just emerged from their shells that were deposited in a hole in the bank next to the walkway.


After checking along the path a bit further another five hatchlings were discovered, but unfortunately these were all dead. 

The hatchlings were very small, so it was extraordinary that they were noticed at all. You can see from the photo below the size of them compared to a dollar coin.


The Volunteers assisted the five live hatchlings to safety. 

The hatchlings were Eastern Long-necked Turtles (Chelodina longicollis) which are a native to our region, the other species of turtles in South Australia are native to the River Murrray regions.

Lake McIntyre has been home to Long-necked Turtles for many years, and although there have been photographic records of turtles mating at the lake, this is the first time we have recorded a successful breeding event.


According to the Australian Museum, the terms turtle and tortoise are often used interchangeably, and can cause some confusion. In the past, all freshwater turtles were called tortoises, and all marine turtles were called turtles. The more recent convention has been to restrict the term 'tortoise' to the purely land-dwelling species. As such, Australia has no tortoises - only turtles.

The Long-necked Turtle, as the name suggests, has a long neck, usually about half the size of their shell. They are a  side-necked turtle, which means they bend their neck and head sideways into their shell, rather than pulling it directly back.

They have webbed feet used for swimming and digging, their carapace (shell) colour varies through shades of brown, and they have distinct black lines on their plastron (underside). They inhabit areas of slow moving water, from farm dams to major rivers and lakes. They feed on small aquatic invertebrates, tadpoles and small fish.They use their long neck like a snake to rapidly strike out at prey. Large food items may be torn apart by their strong front claws. Their jaws are made of horn-like material, and if provoked, can deliver a painful bite. They can eject a pungent liquid from their 'armpits' and groin when handled or disturbed, therefore it is wise to hold them by their shell, and at arm's length, to avoid getting sprayed.

In summer the females dig holes in sandy banks near their waterholes and lay between 4-20 hard-shelled eggs. incubation time is between 3-8 months. The turtle eggs are occasionally preyed upon by water rats and lizards, and the hatchlings are eaten by fish and birds.

Most of their time is spent in the water, although at times they can be seen to pull themselves up onto logs to bask in the sunshine. They can make overland movements in search of food, new waterholes and nesting areas. This often brings them into contact with roads, and fatalities and injuries from vehicles is common.

Australia's freshwater turtles are under threat due to widespread drought, fox predation and human activities.You can help the turtles by collecting data when you see them. Check out the TurtleSAT (Turtle Surveying and Analysis Tools) website, where you can find out how to use your smart phone or computer to enter your sightings.

World Turtle Day is celebrated around the globe on May 23rd to bring attention to, and increase the knowledge of turtles and tortoises.

 

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