Turtles are ancient creatures; ‘living dinosaurs,’ in Southeast Texas, according to Alexander Halbrook, Big Thicket National Preserve Park Guide.
Ranger Alex was leading a turtle information walk at the Edgewater Unit of the Preserve on the morning of June 15.
“Turtles are immediately identifiable: they have a shell, four legs, and a beaky jaw,” he said.
Standing before a table with a few of the 13 types of turtles in the Big Thicket, he said: “They come in all different shapes and sizes from the Razor-backed Musk Turtle; the size of a dime, to the Alligator Snapping Turtle, which can grow to over 200 pounds.”
It’s a steamy hot Friday morning with cicadas challenging Ranger Alex’s speech for attention. Nonetheless, there are more than a dozen rapt listeners before the park service speaker.
Spencer Davillier, of Beaumont, brought his daughter Brittania, 8, of Beaumont, and met Nancy Angell; of the Texas Master Naturalists’s Program, along with Deborah Oakes, of Lumberton, and her children: Isabella, 7, and Gabriel 8, who met Loren Fruge, of Buna, and children: Payton, 12, Landon, 9, Branson, 8, Ada, 6, and Jaxon, 3, and two unnamed adults.
“How does the turtle get out of its shell?” “What do the designs on the shell mean?”Why are there spines on their shells?” Ranger Alex fields a litany of questions from the youthful audience.
“Turtles never leave their shells, it’s a part of their body,” he said, turning the inside of a carapace (shell) of a large Alligator Snapping Turtle before his audience.
Exclamations follow immediately as the spine and ribs within the inside of the shell are revealed.
“All turtle shells tell a story: the uniquely patterned dome shell of the box turtle or the jagged concealing shells of snapping turtles,” Ranger Alex said.
Some turtles spend most of their lives in water while others reside on the grounds of the thicket, but all lay their eggs on land, Ranger Alex explains.
The group casually walks down the Pine Island Bayou waterway with binoculars in-hand looking for turtles hidden along the banks.
It’s a slow, quiet walk looking for animals whose lifespans are measured in decades.
“They live a long time, 200 years for some Alligator Snapping Turtles, some have been found with Civil War musket balls stuck in their shells,” Ranger Alex said.
Stability and continuity mark the lifetime of the turtles of Big Thicket National Preserve.
The Preserve has many opportunities for nature hikes over the summer, visit www.nps.gov/bith for more information.