Red-Belly Turtles

The Plymouth red-bellied turtle scientific name: Pseudemys rubriventris bangsi is sometimes called the Plymouth red-bellied cooter, and in 1983 it was the first freshwater turtle in the US to be listed as endangered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. This turtle was found only in Plymouth County, Massachusetts and the populations dropped to around 200-300 turtles. The state then stepped in and started a conservation “head start” programs to boost the populations.

Scott and John at the Berkshire Museum (and a bunch of us others) have been raising these turtles since the mid 1990’s. The program takes the hatchlings that are the size of a quarter and so susceptible to predation by raccoons, heron’s, skunks and even bull frogs, and sends them to organizations such as the Berkshire Museum that raise them for 6 months so they are about 6 inches long. They are marked by notches in their shells so each individual can be tracked then they are released back into 20 separate ponds. These turtles take about 2–9 years for males, 6–16 for females to become old enough to mate. That’s a long time. In 2007 the wild populations began to increase. But the rehabilitation program goes on because of predation by skunks and herbicides dumped into the streams and ponds where they live.

These colorful turtles are called red-bellies because their plastron, the underside of their shell has red markings.

Like our local painted turtles, Chrysemys picta, they are omnivores feeding on snails, plants, worms, tadpoles, crayfish, and insect larvae. Massachusetts turtles hibernate during the winter in the mud at the bottom of rivers, lakes and ponds.

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Posted by on January 15, 2017 in nature, Science


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Reptile Movie

I just re-discovered this short film written, filmed, acted and directed by a group of after school students in Dr. Aguie’s after school program with the 21 Century Grant. We planned a longer version for SciTV, but in the end we got this trailer. Not too shabby I have to say. Click on the photo to get the link to the movie.





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Moth Night

Moth Week officially starts TODAY! Let the fun begin!

moth light 1.3Last night at dusk a group of us went hiking through the fields at Sheep Hill in Williamstown. We were led by the lovely and lively entomologist Brigette Zacharczenko who took a well deserved break from writing her dissertation, to tell us about caterpillars and moths–and all the other cool insects that were attracted to her lights. Thank you, thank you Brigette.

moth night 1.1At the night lights, we didn’t see too many moths, but we did see some very beautiful insects and many, too many for my comfort, giant horseflies (more about those later).

It was great to catch up with Leslie Ann Reed. Every year I invite her to Berkshire Bioblitz. But she has yet to come. As we stood looking at the view at sunset–I understand why she never wants to leave Sheep Hill. Its a magical place.


mothlight 1.4




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National Moth Week 2016, July 23-31

cecropita caterpillarThis Saturday starts National Moth Week!! And its also the week my bug loving niece (the girl that released earwigs in my bed that time because they were so cute) is coming to visit. Exciting, we are going to be doing some citizen science.

I’ll start the week off collecting caterpillars for her, since she doesn’t arrive until Sunday. She is from the west coast, she hasn’t seen the Eastern Tent caterpillar or the Forest Tent caterpillar. Beautiful creatures. Soft and wonderful to hold and let crawl up your arm. I’m also hoping to find some giant green spiky silk worm caterpillars.

photographing mothsMonday at dark we will be off to Mass Audubon Pleasant Valley to see the moth light demo set up by naturalist Jason Crockwell. This is a super fun time, I can’t tell you how much fun, so go for yourself and find out.

geometrid mothAfter that we will see what we can find on the screen doors. I know the mint green geometrids will be out since the inch worm caterpillars were abundant this spring.

We will record everything we see, either with pictures or just write the names down. Then we will upload the data to iNaturalist.

Its easy citizen science!
If you are thinking, yeah, but so what, what good is this data. It is important? Actually it is. There are several local moth collections from the mid 1900s in the Berkshire Museum database. Scientists could compare the abundance, species, lack of species, new species to this area. It can tell us if our environment is changing, is it cleaner? (I hope so) is it more conducive to wild life? I hope so.) Is the climate warmer? Colder? Hotter? and does this effect the lepidoptera species? All kinds of cool stuff can be figured out using these abundant little creatures. Just think of the classic Peppered Moth, so much was learned from that inconspicuous moth. And there is much more to be learned about liferight in our own backyards.

Do your part! Get out there and participate in Moth Week and make a difference!


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Field Entomology/Natural History of the Berkshires

The Field Entomology/Natural History of the Berkshires course starts Tuesday July 5th. Sign up is over BUT we will be night collecting at the Pittsfield State Forest on Wednesday July 6th. This is a free event and open to the public. Get there around dark and be ready to be WOWed! You can find us by following the light.moth collecting

night collecting


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Slug in a Gall

slug in gallThis might be my curse phrase!

What is this slug doing in this gall? Eating it? Eating its inhabitant? Taking refuge? The world may never know.


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What is this?

imageCan you name this creature*?

If not stop by Berkshire BioBlitz June 18th and 19th because this year we re planning an extra event “Berkshire Biological Identification Days”.

This is where YOU are invited to bring unidentified, curious, baffling biological specimens or items like feathers, fossils, eggs, seeds, insects and weird curly things from personal collections and our experts will take a look and see if they can identify the specimen. The specialists will be at the Mt. Greylock Visitor’s Center 4:00 to 5:30p.m. Saturday and 9:00-10:30a.m. Sunday. If we can’t identify the specimen we will find someone who can! And its okay to bring a photo on your phone if you don’t have a specimen.

*This lovely multi-legged arthropod is a forest millipede, Sigmoria trimaculata. Not to be confused with a centipede, that has less legs and poison jaws. This little guy is harmless, eats leaf litter and will tickle your arm if you let it!

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Posted by on May 27, 2016 in Uncategorized