“I gotta put down the phone!” A Kinosternon sonoriense, an adult female Sonora Mud Turtle, my first ever Cochise County sighting, was crossing the dirt road known as Paloma Trail. Turbo Turtle, I soon came to call her; for a turtle, she was really booking it.
Which explained why she’d lived long enough to reach the maximum known length of seven inches, or mighty close to it. This lady understood the hazards of the open road. Not only that, but she was already more than halfway across the road and headed for deep cover; I didn’t have a second to waste if I wanted to get any photographs. Bringing the truck to a halt and slamming it into Park, I dropped the phone on the seat and stepped out, trotting a bit closer to the Turbo T, love-talking while zooming the Canon PowerShot lens to 20X magnification, the greatest close-up possible without using the digital multiplier (which degrades the image).
She wasn’t buying the love talk. Not one bit. One picture snapped. Two. And…by photo number three, mere seconds between the shots, Turbo Turtle was well under cover, invisible from overhead. In fact, I couldn’t see her through the viewfinder at all; I just knew she was there and took a couple of pictures “blind”.
When I walked up closer, she’d closed up shop, withdrawn into her shell, save from vehicular traffic and giant raptors alike. I was able to get a bit closer, back off the zoom a bit for the last couple of pictures.
If you wonder at my excitement over a mere turtle, consider this: Pam and I do live in the desert. Mud turtle sightings are common for those folks who live near the banks of the rather seasonal San Pedro River, but out here, nearly a mile of rough country away from a major water source? Hey, it’s a big deal, okay?
True, we’re capable of getting thrilled at contact with a praying mantis or a stick bug, so yeah, we’re easily entertained.
How did I determine that this turtle was a female? Basically, two things. A bit of online research informed me that (a) male mud turtles are smaller than females, with this one being about as big as they get, and (b) males have long spiny tails whereas females have short tails. I couldn’t see anything I was sure was a tail at all, so that might not count–but the size was clear enough.
This species (Kinosternon sonoriense, Sonora Mud Turtle) does like water but is known to migrate significant distances between one body of water and another. Presumably, that’s what Turbo T was doing today.
Apparently, few predators bother to attack a hard shelled adult Sonora Mud Turtle, though eggs are considered delicacies by a sizeable portion of the desert’s bad actors. The turtles, in their turn, tend toward being carnivorous. That is, they’ll eat plants if they must, but meat is preferred, dead or alive. Carrion welcome. I couldn’t find a life expectancy listed for this particular species, but the Arizona Mud Turtle reportedly has a life span ranging from 6 to 10 years. Also, if things get too dry, Sonora Mud Turtles can hibernate underground for more than a year at a time.
Having lived here for more than 6 1/2 years before sighting Turbo Turtle, I’m not expecting to spot a whole herd of them anytime soon. However, if I ever see Turbo again, I’ll know it’s her by the heart shaped dent on the upper right side of her Cochise County shell. How cool is that?
What? The phone? Um…yeah, about that. When I got back to the truck and picked up the cell phone, Jennifer (our prison pen pal) was doot-dootley-doot singing to herself in high amusement, keeping herself entertained. How long she’d had to wait, I’m not quite sure. Three or four minutes, probably. But it was worth the wait; she got a batch of turtle photos emailed to her tonight as a reward.