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Meet "Nessie," the spiny softshell turtle, Apalone spinifera
Unlike the infamous Loch Ness Monster of Scottish folklore, "Nessie," our resident Spiny Softshell Turtle, does exist. Much like the fabled creature of Scotland, visitors rarely see her in her outdoor habitat known as Jess's Pond. If you are fortunate enough to catch a glimpse, you'll find her to be quite a sight - with a large, flat carapace that seems more like a "leathery" shell than what we envision as a typical turtle shell. With her long neck and pig-like nose, she has quite a quirky, almost endearing, appearance.
The range of the spiny softshell turtle, Apalone spinifera, covers much of the United States, even extending north into Ontario and Quebec and south into Mexico. Preferring slow moving, shallow riparian zones, they seek the sandy bottoms of creeks, rivers and ponds - into which they bury themselves. They can simply extend their long necks to the surface for a breath of air, before retreating once again to lie in wait for their small, unsuspecting prey. They prey mostly on fish, but being opportunistic, they will eat just about anything small enough to fit into their mouths such as insects, crayfish, and amphibians. Sexually dimorphic, females grow to be much larger than males, and are considered to be one of the largest species of turtles of North America.
Despite spending much of their time underwater, they will actively bask in the sun on exposed dead limbs or other such surfaces protruding from the water that allows them to warm themselves - while still providing the opportunity for a quick exit should danger present itself. Once the cool temperatures of autumn arrive, these turtles will begin their annual hibernation. Discontinuing the process of using their lungs for breathing, and shifting into absorbing oxygen from the water solely through their clocae, they will be able to remain submerged throughout their hibernation period. A clocoa (plural: clocae) is a common outlet for waste disposal and reproductive activities among many animals.
Our outdoor turtle pond is home to Nessie and 25 other turtles, including Blanding's turtles, spotted turtles, musk turtles, midland painted turtles and the northern wood turtle. The best time to observe turtles (out of their watery habitat) is between 9 am and 1 pm on a warm, sunny day.
HELPING INJURED OR ORPHANED WILDLIFE
If you have found a seemingly orphaned animal, or an injured animal that is not in imminent danger, before taking any action, contact The Illinois Department of Natural Resources Northeastern Office at 847.608.3100. Many young animals might seem orphaned when the parent is merely nearby, but out of sight. If it is necessary to rescue an injured animal, do not attempt to give it food or water without first obtaining guidance from the IDNR or other qualified expert.