Sunday, May 06, 2012

A week and a half ago I got to check out the fishway at the Fairmount Dam on the Schuylkill River. Note that I wrote 'fishway' and not 'fish ladder.' Sometimes it gets called a fish ladder, but this is more of a series of compartments lined up in a switchback and dropping a bit each one and looking less like  a ladder than some that you see out West, where the salmon can leap better than can our less-athletic shad.

The fish use of the fishway was fascinating, but of course I had to ask about the reptiles they see. Back at the Fairmount Waterworks Interpretive Center (the most underrated museum in the City) they have video of a northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon) using it. They see lots of red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta) too, but what intrigued me were the spiny soft-shelled turtles (Apalone spinifera). These are strange-looking, flat turtles with long noses and, as you might guess by the name, leathery skin in place of their shell. They look like a turtle that melted a bit in the sun.

These are native to most of the rest of the country; they live in the Ohio River drainage in western PA, but the ones we have are descended from released turtles (most likely food turtles, not pets). They most famously live in the Maurice River drainage in South Jersey, but I've seen them in a creek in Bucks County, I've heard reports from the Delaware up around Easton, and I've seen photos of big females from the Heinz NWR. So it's not shocking that they'd see them, but still interesting, and tempting to keep me looking a little more carefully from the bridges over the Schuylkill and, I hope soon, from the Raftemys 2.

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