The Eastern Box Turtle: An Open and Shut Case!

What Happened here?!!

To the Rescue!

 

On a hike up the hill today, in the wooded area of Middle Tennessee, I came across an interesting situation. Apparently a battle had just occurred and the loser was upside down near a mating pair of Eastern Box Turtles. The smaller male as well as the larger one had come looking for the female following the pheromones she released into the air signaling that it was time for mating. The unfortunate loser was trapped on his back and couldn’t right himself. With legs kicking in the air, he quickly withdrew into his shell and snapped the door shut when I came near. After taking several photos and watching the process for awhile, I righted him and left him in the forest to fend for himself. Hopefully the next time he seeks a mate he will be a little bigger and wiser.

Here you see the mating couple.

 

Nearby was the loser of the battle trapped upside down in his shell.

 

Here is the loser in my hand showing the bottom side of his shell. As you can see, God gave these turtles an excellent way to protect themselves by not only having a shell, but a trap door to shut to keep their enemies out. This is an amazing example of God’s “bio-engineering”. We can learn a lot from creation about how to design our own projects. This is quite a suit of armor for these little turtles!

How Big Do They Get?

As you can see, he is just a little guy. Interestingly, these turtles are usually between 4.5 and 6 inches long. Sometime, since they grow to extreme ages, some over a hundred years, they have a long time to develop, some have grown to over 7 inches.

 

Here is the same turtle from the top side. As you can see, he fits comfortably in my hand.

So how do you tell the males from the females?

 

Generally the males have red irises (eyes) and the females have brown irises. The males also have a concave plastron (bottom of shell), this allows the males to stay on top of the females during the mating process.

So What Were They Doing on the Mountain Top?

 

You might think it funny that I found these three turtles on top of a hill far from the water. They are actually terrestrial turtles. They live on land. These turtles have been found at altitudes as great as 6,000 ft. They prefer forests made up of both evergreens like conifers and cedars, and deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves annually) where the soil is moist and full of insects, worms, snails, slugs, and vegetation.

 

Omnivores: We Eat Our meat and Veggies!

 

Box turtles have a varied diet and will consume both plant and animal material. They will even eat mushrooms. One of their favorite foods seem to include a lot of beetles and their larvae. They like berries, flowers, grasses, and many other types of vegetation as well that grows in this habitat.

  

Do They Make Good Pets?

 

Though many people keep box turtles as pets its important to check with the local laws to see if this is allowed in your state. Some states even require documentation of where you bought your pet turtle, if purchased in a pet store. In Tennessee it is unlawful to have any turtle in captivity, so leave them where you find them. (This law was passed due to the danger of illness caused by the bacteria that is often found on turtles that can be passed to handlers causing food poisoning and other illnesses. It also prevents people from getting them as pets and then releasing them into the wild that destroys the natural food chains and balance there.  If you can keep them as pets in your state, remember that having a pet requires you to maintain their habitat and provide food. You need to make sure that your pet gets lots of sunlight, or artificial UVA and UVB light. A full spectrum of light is required to keep them healthy. They acquire their vitamin D3 from exposure to these light rays. You also need to regulate the temperature in their dwelling place at between 85-87 degrees F. Remember also, that they will probably outlive you, if cared for properly, so you have to plan ahead for their upkeep when you are gone from this earth. And yes, even though they are terrestrial, they need water!

If you keep these turtles you will also have to provide lots of insects, like beetles, and their larvae (like mealworms),  jumping insects, like crickets and grasshoppers, as well as worms. The ratio of their diet should be about 10% dark leafy greens, 40% vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, and 50%, the high animal protein foods listed above. Most people also augment their diet by sprinkling calcium powder on the food so the turtles can ingest it and have stronger bones, claws, and shells.

One common problem of those that keep box turtles is when the turtles get a respiratory disease. If your pet starts wheezing, has labored breath or clogged nostrils, you may have to take him to the vet to get a treatment to make him healthy again. If your turtle gets these symptoms you will also have to change the substrate in the bottom of the cage with new and realize that the turtle environment must remain moist. To keep it moist and not soggy, use a mister spray frequently.

If you find them in the wild, as I did, it’s probably best to leave them there then  go and visit them to study and enjoy these amazing creatures for years to come. In some regions their populations have declined due to over-harvesting and road kill as they frequently cross the road to get to the other side.

Fabricating Fabulous Forms For Fun

 

Combining Units 

One of my favorite varieties of origami is Unit Origami. In this art form you combine several modular pieces to create a larger form. Using the same base you can make several different models. Here are a few of the forms I made with the same base unit. You can also make larger and smaller objects by varying the size of the squares of paper you begin folding. By adding dots made with a hold punch you can add color and texture to your piece. There are several ways to modify the designs by changing the colors of the dots as well as the placement. One of the reasons I like this unit is that it requires no glue to hold the original form together. I did use glue to attach the dots.

 

I See Spots!

 

Let’s Make Some Dice!

If you add spots, you can make your own set of dice.

What Can You Make With 12 Units?

Here is a geometric form composed of 12 units. It is about the size of a baseball if you make it with squares that are created by quartering a sheet of copy paper. Of course, you will have a small strip of paper left over after folding the paper in quarters and folding it diagonally to make squares. Did you notice that the dice above were made with smaller units than the globes? These were made with squares cut from the strips leftover from the globe construction.

 

One of My Favorite Origami Books

There are actually more than one way to create the units used in these forms. The units I used in all the previous projects are a variation of one I found in Steve and Magumi Biddle’s book, Essential Origami.   You can find the directions for folding the units on pages 173-176 of their book. To make an easier unit, but with less color, just roll the paper to the center twice instead of going beyond the center and reverse rolling. Below you can see a cube made with the Biddle units and an example of the units used to compose the cube next to a modified unit of the same size.

Below is a picture of one of my favorite origami books.

How Would You Use Them?

By experimenting with this unit you can find others ways to combine them. They can be used in a wide variety of ways including: making your own indoor baseballs to play catch, using several combined forms to create mobiles, using forms as knick-knacks and conversation pieces, making your own playing dice for game play, and more. Fill one of the small cubes with beans or rice and you have a Hackensack, You can also use the small globes as Christmas tree decorations. How could you use them?

 

Catching Panfish: Shellcrackers, Crappie, & Bluegill

Probably one of the first fish a person will catch will be one of these fun hard-fighting fish. These fish are plentiful and can live in a wide variety of waterways.  Let’s take a closer look at these fish and learn more about their habits and importance in God’s creation.

One of the Fishermen’s Favorites

One of the fisherman’s favorite panfish is the Crappie. These are sometimes called “Slabs” (especially if they are big!). In other parts of the country they are called “Papermouths” due to their thin easy to break loose mouths. Others call them “Bachelor Perch“. Whatever you call them, they are worth the time to catch. One of the neat things about fishing for Crappie is that if you catch one, you know there are many more about! They school up in the same areas. One of the best times to seek Crappie is the Springtime when they are spawning. They come in close to shore to build their nests in about 1 to 5 ft. deep. In the summer they seek deeper water where the temperature is cooler and there is more oxygen. Look around structure! They are often found under docks, fallen trees, and brush piles. Some fishermen actually drop their used Christmas trees into the lake to create a spot to come back to in the Spring and Summertime for a stringer of fish. In one lake, not far from where I live, the fish and game department has sunk a series of pipes and spaced them just the right distance apart to create an artificial brush pile habitat. These are marked so fishermen know where to drop their jigs and bait.

Be Aware of the Laws!

Since Crappie are so popular it is an economic boost to those who sell fishing gear, provide overnight accommodations, and food to feed the fishermen near where the fish are caught. Some lakes have strict laws governing the size of Crappie that can be kept by the fishermen. Be sure to know the regulations for your area! In most regions there is also a limit of how many you can catch a day. In Tennessee, the statewide creel limit for Crappie is 15 fish and they must be at least 10 inches long to keep. However, at some lakes, like Percy Priest Lake, (this is the one with the sunken pipe habitats mentioned earlier), you can catch twice that number, 30 a day. These size limits and creel numbers often change from year to year depending on the populations available.

Many Different Techniques

One of the interesting ways these fish are often caught is called Spider Rigging. This technique is used widely in shallow lakes like Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee. Fishermen set up their boats with multiple poles all the same size, usually about 12 ft. long. The poles are set in rod-holders about 8 to 10 inches above the water all around the boat. The lines are rigged with jigs and sunk only about 1 to 2 ft. deep. The fishermen use a trolling motor and move around the edges of the lake. When a fish grabs the jig they flip it up into the boat, unhook it and place it in the live-well or bucket and then reset the pole and line for another fish. In lakes like this fishermen can catch a whole freezer full in a day’s tine. I’ve never tried this yet since I have neither a boat or that many poles. I can still catch fish from the dock or shore. Some people use a  minnow under a bobber and others trail a Crappie jig behind a bobber and just roll it in slowly until the bobber sinks and set the hook. Be very careful when setting the hook, however! They don’t call them “Papermouths” for nothing!

Crappie are highly prized for their pure, white, flaky flesh. There are tons of great recipes for cooking them up. Since you usually catch a bunch it is well worth your while to fillet them up. Others just scale them and fry up the whole fish, bones and all. Since the meat is flaky it is easy to remove it from the bones.

The fish below went back in the lake to grow up. It was fun to catch, however.

 

Strong Fighters and Meaty

 

Another large sunfish is the Shellcracker, also known as a Red-ear Sunfish.

 

These fish put up a good fight and have a lot of meat on them. I caught one yesterday that was bigger than my large hands and fought harder than a bass. These fish also breed near the shore in the Springtime. Last year I caught a half dozen large ones in a half an hour in the same General area near the shore. I almost always catch them on worms. They are masters at stealing the bait so I usually only use part of a worm and bury a small hook totally inside the worm. Sometimes it will take a couple worms to get them on the line because of their sneaking worm grabbing abilities.

 

Create a Memory with this Old-Time Favorite: Bluegill

The final sunfish we will talk about is the most dependable species that can be caught year round in most freshwater lakes, streams, rivers, and ponds. These feisty little fish are the Bluegill. I rarely go to the lake without hooking into a number of these. I love to show kids fishing for the first time how to catch these fish. I used to work at a camp for the mentally disabled and they all seemed to enjoy fishing since it wasn’t long before they had one on the line. These are the fish to target if you are taking a child fishing for the first tine. They will be hooked on fishing for the rest of their lives. I remember taking my own kids down to the lake in California in the early Springtime, baiting up their lines with two hooks on each pole, and spending the whole time baiting hooks and removing fish while they kept bringing them in. In many places there is no size of creel limit on Bluegill. Just remember, however, that if you keep them you have to clean them! They are a good eating fish and a great fish to introduce someone to the wonderful taste of fish. I still remember my Grandpa cooking up a batch for me when we used to catch them out in the irrigation canals in Northern California when I was a kid. Why not take a kid fishing and create a wonderful memory of your own?

An Important Part of the Environment

These fish eat insects, other fish, spiders, snails, crayfish and other crustaceans, worms and insect larvae. They are often eaten by other animals including: larger fish (like bass), many birds (like herons and egrets, osprey, and eagles), raccoon, mink, and other mammals, as well as reptiles like snakes and turtles. They are part of many food webs and support a wide variety of animal life around and in the water.

Self-Regulating

Interestingly, if there are too many of these fish in a given area, their growth rates are diminished  and all the fish will be about the same size and very small. It’s important that their numbers be regulated and monitored in smaller lakes and ponds. Some fish, like these ones, secrete a chemical hormones that affects the growth rates of other fish in the area. Size is also related to the amount of food per fish available. 

 

Have You Heard the Carpenters? No, Not the Singers…the Bees!

Back in the seventies one of my favorite singing groups was the Carpenters. They truly created some beautiful music. This post, however, is not about this singing group but some other creatures that create some good vibrations.

So, What’s the Buzz?

Every Spring at our home in Tennessee, we hear a lot of buzzing around our house. If you walk out on the porch you will see hovering bees about the size of the bumblebee, but these bees don’t “bumble”, they bore!

 This is an Eastern Carpenter Bee.

If you look under the railing you will find large piles of sawdust where they have drilled round holes on the bottom of the boards. These little creatures can cause a lot of damage if your porch is constructed of pine or cedar, their favorite nesting material. Interestingly, They don’t eat the wood! They just use it to create nests where they can raise their young.

When You See the Sawdust Piles You Know the Bees Are About!

 

Notice that the holes they bore are round and about a half-inch in diameter.

Though they make a lot of noise and will buzz at you if you move something through their space, they rarely cause any harm to people other than the destruction of their wood edifices. The males, which are the most aggressive, do not even have stingers, so they can’t sting. The females do have stingers but rarely sting unless someone is trying to get into their nest.

Below You Can See Them Hover.

Speeders Beware!

Scientists have conducted several studies and found that these bees can actually identify one another. They have also discovered that they rarely respond to an invasion of their territory unless the invader is moving quickly. They tied several bees to strings and slowly lowered them into the territory or just let them hang there, and the bees showed no aggression. If, however, the strings were moved quickly, there was an immediate response. I have noticed that when I wave my arm or a butterfly net through their space they aggressively buzz about. Since I know the males can’t hurt me, I pursue those doing damage to my house. I have also treated several of the existing holes with bug spray. We will eventually have to replace the wood railing with a plastic or metal substitute that the bees can’t destroy.

Not All Bad!

Though many don’t appreciate their burrowing tendencies they should recognize their beneficial characteristics. Each and every creature God created has a purpose! Carpenter bees actually do more good than harm. They are excellent pollinators and especially good at helping your garden production of tomatoes and eggplants and many other crops and ornamental flowers. They can pollinate flowers that others cannot. These bees were created with special mouth-parts for cutting through the outer membranes of flowers to access the nectar inside. As they perform  this operation, they become covered with pollen which then gets transferred to the next flower.

“Good Vibrations”

They also pollinate by vibration! Their buzzing near the flowers causes the anthers of the flowers to vibrate thus releasing pollen. This is similar to what some farmers do to increase their tomato production by using an electric toothbrush to shake the flowers. Others just shake the stalks holding the flowers to accomplish the same results. The bees get it done musically. I guess that is what is known as “Good Vibrations“!

Food for Others Continue reading “Have You Heard the Carpenters? No, Not the Singers…the Bees!”

Have You Ever Eaten Lotus Seeds? AKA “Cajun Peanuts”

One of the interesting plants that God created for man to enjoy was the American Lotus Plant. It not only provides beauty, it is also very useful to man and other creatures providing both food and shelter and even a bathing place for birds. Let’s learn more about these unusual plants.

 

  

Last Fall my son-in-Law, two grandsons, and I went for a boat ride on Reelfoot Lake. Our guide for the day let us experience a new tasty treat that grows right in the lake. Though I had often seen the the seed pods of the American Lotus plant in flower arrangements, I didn’t know that they contained edible seeds. They are often harvested in the months of August and September just after they flower, the petals fall off and when the pods are still tender. When you break open the pods you can find about 20 seeds inside. Squeeze one out of its outer skin and pop it in your mouth. They taste sort of like a water chestnut. They can also be boiled and eaten. Some people boil them down and turn them into paste that can be used like flour or as a thickening for soups.

 

 

 

The young leaves of this water plant can also be sliced up and cooked like spinach. I also learned that the long roots, about as long as your forearm, can be sliced up and fried like pancakes. These plants were a mainstay in the diets of Native Americans who lived near ponds and lakes where they grow in abundance.

The larger leaves of this water plant were often used to wrap food for cooking, keeping the food contained and moist until unwrapped and eaten.

 

When God designed the leaves of this plant He gave them a waxy surface so they would float on the surface of the water providing a natural bird bath as they collect fresh rainwater and create small pools in the centers of the leaf. The leaves also provide shade and protection for the fish that make nests under them. Fishermen like to throw their lures up into a bunch of these plants knowing that their lures will usually slip right through them and that the big fish can be found there. Many small animals can actually use the leaves like a raft out in the open water.

 

 

If you want to see the flowers of these plants you only have a short time to do so. The flowers bloom and in two days time they have dropped their petals. The nectar and pollen from these flowers provide food for many insects. Fortunately they don’t all bloom during the same two days so there can be different fresh flowers providing food for several days.

 

The next time you go boating in a lake full of water lilies, look for these plants. You will be glad you took the time to investigate these amazing gifts of God.

Fried, Almond Crusted and Broiled Bass Fillets: A Light, Tasty Treat

 

I love the early Spring time when the bass are easy to catch. One of the best tasting fish, they can be prepared several ways. In the last two weeks I made several tasty meals from ten bass I caught down at the lake. After filleting them, I rolled pieces in a mixture of cornmeal and whole wheat flour with a little salt, pepper and ginger powder. An easy way to apply the mixture is to put it in a small plastic ziplock bag and drop in the fillets. Shake it until they are totally covered and drop them in a frying pan with melted butter. Cook briefly on both sides and you are ready for a yummy meal. Some people like to roll the fish in egg before adding the flour and cornmeal for a more crispy texture.

 

These were served with broccoli and grapes.

The fish below have almond powder mixed with the flour mixture. They have more of a crunchy texture. The almonds blend with the bass flavor to create a tasty meal. Melon and cilantro make a nice meal.

 

Another way to prepare them is to put them into fish tacos.

A lighter way to cook them up is broiling. I added a little water to a frying pan and heated it up. While it was heating, I cut up some bell pepper, onions, and cilantro. I then put the fillets into the pan and poured in the veggies. I added a pinch of Italian seasoning, a sprinkle of ginger powder, salt and pepper. I covered the pan and cooked it until the fish was tender and flakey. I drained off the excess water and put the fish and veggies into a bowl. It makes a tasty, light, meal, very low in calories. Bass also is a good fish to use in making chowders.

 

You better get get out there and get some bass while they are biting!