Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Raccoon Denied of His Prize?

Allow me to take you back in time and also whisk you away from the upper Midwest to the Southeastern USA.

Some great pics I got on the Cuddeback in late June, 2011 in North Carolina.  

Nothing like a little herpetological bycatch on a camera trap.  Especially when the amphibian and/or reptile being photographed isn't ending up as lunch.

At the camera set I had monitoring the whistlepig burrow....we get a lot of Raccoon (Procyon lotor) activity.  Some are big, fat looking boars...but we also see many-a skinny little 'coon running running past the camera.  The critter pictured below looked like the latter to me.

Maybe it was due to lean times, but whatever the reason, the raccoon below tries to have an Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) for dinner.

So....is the raccoon denied of his prize in this case?

It would appear so.

I guess those shells with the flexible hinge on the plastron work!

Notes on Box Turtle Predators

According to information summarized by Dodd (2001) a variety of predators threaten box turtles.  Although birds (e.g., herons, crows, etc.) and reptiles (copperheads, cottonmouths, etc.) eat many, medium-sized mammalian carnivores are a common box turtle predator.  Raccoons, Oppossums, Skunks, Minks, Coyotes, and domestic dogs (to name a few) will, apparently, partake of a box turtle snack.  The vast majority of this predation, however, is on eggs... but also juveniles, whose shells are not as hard as adults.  Raccoons and Oppossums, in particular, are known to have devastating effects on turtle eggs in areas where individuals communally nest (i.e. many turtles come together to lay eggs).  I have personally witnessed what can only be described as all out carnage, where aquatic turtles along the Mississippi River in Wisconsin have come up to nest only to have mammalian predators excavate and eat their eggs.  I vividly remember walking a small stretch of sandy bank one day looking for nesting turtles.  I found only destroyed nests.  Then it dawned on me that I should actually count the number of destroyed nests I encountered.  In a half hour, I counted 40 and gave up out of mild depression. 

Yet, it seems that these small carnivores have a tougher time breaching the sealed shell of an adult box turtle....or at least they quickly give up for something easier.  Yet, if the carnivore can catch the turtle before it withdraws its head, it may be able to deliver a fatal bite before the turtle seals itself shut and get a meal.  This happens more than one would think, and box turtles with missing limbs (presumably due to a circumstance such as the one I just described) are a common occurrence.

I don't fault Raccoons or Oppossums for destroying these nests.  Critters need to survive and Raccoons are good at it.  I can't help but respect any species that can thrive in this anthropogenically altered landscape.

I just wish they didn't eat turtle eggs!!

Literature Cited:

Dodd, Jr., C.K., 2001. North American Box Turtles: a natural history.  University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK.

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