Cochise County Reptiles: Sonora Mud Turtle, Kinosternon Sonoriense

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“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When I walked up closer, she’d closed up shop, withdrawn into her shell, save from vehicular traffic and giant raptors alike.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.

The Sonora Mud Turtle, getting under cover in a hurry (for a turtle).

The Sonora Mud Turtle, getting under cover in a hurry (for a turtle).

A close-up look at Kinosternon sonoriense.

A close-up look at Kinosternon sonoriense.

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.

One motating, migrating Sonora Mud Turtle, a wise, mature female.

One motating, migrating Sonora Mud Turtle, a wise, mature female.

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?

The heart shaped dent in Turbo Turtle's shell can be seen in the center of the photo.

The heart shaped dent in Turbo Turtle’s shell can be seen in the center of the photo.

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.

6 thoughts on “Cochise County Reptiles: Sonora Mud Turtle, Kinosternon Sonoriense

  1. I have actually seen one of these. It must have been a male, because it was about 3″ and had a spiny tail. Of course, I am only about a mile from the San Pedro. The kids got all excited and David leaped out of the vehicle to grab it up to check out. I made them put it back shortly afterwards. I do not need a turtle to take care of also. I made them turn the horned toad loose too. They had it checked into an aquarium by the time I found out about it.

  2. Good call(s). 3″ with a spiny tail was probably a younger male, not quite full grown–at a guess. I don’t know exactly how big the males are supposed to get. Also, I read a lot of website pages last night, including government-based blurbs, that stated these turtles re “illegal to collect without a hunting license”, which sounded a bit bizarre. A hunting license for turtles? But apparently the “powers that be” are concerned about removing turtles from the wild when they reproduce as slowly as they do (although this species can lay from 1 to 4 egg clutches per year, apparently). And I certainly agree with leaving the horned toad on the loose. Some of them eat nothing but ants; can you imagine your offspring going out to catch enough ants to fill those oversized toad bellies on a regular basis?

  3. I checked out grabbing a wild turtle and found that there are many different kinds that are illegal to hold captive. That is why they got made to turn them loose. As far as the horned toads, I like them running around free on the deck. I enjoy watching them.

  4. There you go; looks like you must have checked out some of the same pages I did.

    I agree; watching the horned toads is a true pleasure. We don’t have a deck, though, and haven’t seen many around here for the past year or two. They’re probably here, just not all that visible.

  5. I share your excitement, Ghost. What a beauty! Turtles are cool. They can be nomadic without having to pack up their belongings or look for a room to rent.

    I love that you take photos with a camera; I do the same. Today, everywhere you look, people are snapping life’s Kodak moments with their cell phones. I don’t care how evolved they’ve become, I still reach for my camera when I want to snatch a shot.

    Speaking of which… put in a good word to Santa. I need one with a higher zoom capacity than my Olympus Fe 5X!

  6. Thanks, Sha. I’m not sure about Santa, but if his elves are taking work orders, you might specify a Canon PowerShot SX260HS, which is the model I’m currently using. It’s my second PowerShot, with a more powerful zoom than its predecessor, and the 20X optical is crystal clear. At 80X, using the 4X digital multiplier, the full moon fills a fair bit of the frame. Also, this model’s digital delay (from button press to shutter click) is less than with many cameras. Set on Auto (which is all I ever use, ’cause I’m lazy), it auto-focuses when you press the shutter button down partway (usually only takes a second or two), then press the rest of the way, and that’s it. I’ve gotten so used to it that I hardly even notice the 2-step process any more.

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