Western Pond Turtle
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Presumed Extinct: Lost Species of the Bay Area

Mention extinct species, and most people think of long-gone mastodons and saber-toothed tigers. But we know that some Bay Area species have disappeared in just the last 200 years. Or have they? Prompted by rediscoveries of "lost" species in Solano and Contra Costa counties, Bay Nature magazine decided to see what other missing flora and fauna might still be out there in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, awaiting a patient observer. An abbreviated version of the full article is available through the Bay Nature website here.

(Illustrations by Devin Cecil-Wishing)

Also make sure to read the web extras Raising the Dead: Bringing Ghosts to Life, an in-depth look at the process that went into illustrating each of the nine species featured in Presumed Extinct, as well as Presumed Extinct: Lost Species of the Bay Area, a field guide to each of these Holy Grail species. ««

The Tortoise and the Tulip

Working together with Ege University (Turkey) professor Ertan Taskavak, Matthew Bettelheim recently published the results of their investigation into the identify of the tortoise species depicted in Ottoman artist Osman Hamdi Bey's popular 1906 painting, "The Tortoise Trainer" [Kaplumbaga Terbiyecisi], in the International Society for the History and Bibliography of Herpetology's academic journal Bibliotheca Herpetologica (Volume 6, Number 2). Often referred to mistakenly as "The Turtle Trainer," this is perhaps one of Osman Hamdi's best known works and has earned him no little fame. In December of 2004, "The Tortoise Trainer" was auctioned off to the Suna-Inan Kirac Foundation's Pera Museum in Turkey for 5 trillion Turkish lira ($3.5 million), setting a record for the highest price paid for a Turkish painting.

Until recently, the five tortoises shown at the feet of the painting's dervish (actually Osman Hamdi himself) were never officially identified to species and were known only as "tortoises". In the recent "The Tortoise and the Tulip - Testudo graeca ibera and Osman Hamdi's "The Tortoise Trainer,"" the tortoises were at long-last identified as being Mediterranean spur-thighed tortoises (Testudo graeca ibera Pallas 1814). ««

Western Pond Turtle: Ecology and Conservation Workshop

On April 16, 2005, the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of The Wildlife Society hosted The Western Pond Turtle: Ecology and Conservation Workshop at Sonoma State University. The workshop was organized by wildlife biologist Matthew Bettelheim and Sonoma County Water Agency senior environmental specialist Dave Cook, and was sold out with more than 120 people in attendance.

The workshop featured twelve presentations on topics ranging from taxonomics and genetics to the relevance of the current designation of the northern and southern subspecies. Research Zoologist R. Bruce Bury with the USGS Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center and Associate Professor David J. Germano with California State University, Bakersfield started the morning with a discussion of ecological and population biology studies conducted over the past 40 years. A historic review of the over-harvest of tens of thousands of western pond turtles for food consumption in the late 1800s and early 1900s was presented by Matthew Bettelheim, summarizing the results of his recent article “Marmorata: The Famed Mud Turtle of the San Francisco Market,” published in the academic journal California History.

Over the past few years, three scientific names (Actinemys, Clemmys, and Emys marmorata) and two common names (Pacific and western pond turtle) have been proposed for the species, leading several presentations and presenters to weigh in on the ongoing taxonomic debate. Other presentations covered the species’ natural history, ecology, phylogenetics, survey techniques, and conservation. The workshop included a field demonstration on visual, snorkel, and trap techniques and commercial and homemade trap designs, followed by a social campout that evening at nearby Spring Lake. ««

"Marmorata: The Famed Mud Turtle of the San Francisco Market"

This spring, wildlife biologist, science writer, and natural historian Matthew Bettelheim published his most recent research on the historical terrapin harvests of California in the California Historical Society’s peer reviewed academic journal California History (Volume 82, Number 4) entitled, “Marmorata: The Famed Mud Turtle of the San Francisco Market.” The western pond turtle (Clemmys marmorata), or terrapin as it was once known, was historically a prominent item in the markets of California at the turn of the twentieth century. And although several scientific and historical journal articles, as well as some popular literature, recount briefly the collection of terrapins for sale in the San Francisco market as an ingredient for soup, little beyond this recycled anecdotal information has been documented or expanded upon in detail. Records, although rare, obscure, or cursory, do exist, however. For example, at the height of the fisheries in 1899, an estimated 53,935 terrapins (107,869 lbs) were reported in the San Francisco market.

In many respects, the absence of published data represents a significant hole in the regional historical record surrounding not only the fisheries, but also of California. Moreover, these data gaps also highlight our lack of understanding about the current status of a turtle species now facing considerable threats to its existence. Although the western pond turtle could be considered a candidate for listing as an Endangered or Threatened species, state and federal agencies have denied attempts to recognize this status. In urban areas of California, people are far more likely to see introduced, non-native species like the red-eared slider, which are effectively out-competing the state's native turtle.

Biologists throughout the western pond turtle's range recognize that the species is declining, and that certain populations are considered threatened or endangered nonetheless. By digesting what little information remains on the extent and impacts the historical terrapin fisheries exacted on western pond turtle populations over the course of one hundred years, we may be able to gain a more accurate knowledge of the severity of their decline in numbers. ««

The Western Pond Turtle and the Legless Lizard: Natural Histories of the Species

In recent months, wildlife biologist Matthew Bettelheim has published two natural history accounts on native California reptile species. “The Western Pond Turtle, Clemmys marmorata… A Natural History of the Species,” synthesizes the extant herpetological literature, including close to 300 peer-reviewed journal articles, theses, technical reports, gray-literature, and herpetological books, to provide a much-needed review of the species and its status throughout its range. Contents include topics such as taxonomy, etymology, geographic variation, range, distribution (Canada, United States, and Mexico), physical description, behavior, overland movements, habitat, diet, reproduction, predation and mortality, and conservation status. The booklet includes fine art illustrations by contributors Roger Hall (www.inkart.net) and Joe Crowley, and a distribution map by botanist and GIS specialist Heath Bartosh.

“The California Legless Lizard (Anniella pulchra) and the Baja California Legless Lizard (Anniella geronimensis)... A Natural History of the Species," synthesizes the extant herpetological literature to provide an exhaustive review of these species and their status throughout their range. Contents include topics such as taxonomy, etymology, physical description, geographic variation, range, distribution (United States and Mexico), behavior, habitat, diet, reproduction, predation and mortality, and conservation status. The booklet includes fine art illustrations by contributor Roger Hall (www.inkart.net) and a distribution map by botanist and GIS specialist Heath Bartosh, as well as Appendix A, which features "A Translation of J.G. Fischer's 1885 Description of Anniella nigra from the Original German" by wildlife biologist Dana E. Terry, taken from Fischer's "Ueber eine neue Art der Gattung Anniella Gray."

The western pond turtle and legless lizard natural history accounts are available for purchase at www.cafepress.com. ««

A Selective Translation of Alexander Strauch’s Published Works on the Western Pond Turtle

Wildlife biologists Matthew Bettelheim and Dana Terry recently worked together with librarian Julia Dunaeva of the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, Russia, to publish “A Selective Translation of Alexander Strauch’s “Chenological Studies,” “Global Distribution,” and “Comments” Specific to the Western Pond Turtle (Clemmys marmorata), Including a Bibliography of his Known Herpetological Works” in the International Society for the History and Bibliography of Herpetology’s peer reviewed academic journal Bibliotheca Herpetologica (Volume 5, Number 2) (formerly the International Society for the History and Bibliography of Herpetology Newsletter and Bulletin). Therein, Mr. Bettelheim and Terry worked closely together to translate Strauch’s work on the western pond turtle – specifically his 1862 designation of a “new” species of turtle as Clemmys Wosnessenskyi, later acknowledged to be that of C. marmorata instead in subsequent publications – from it’s original German to make his writings accessible to the English-speaking scientific community where the species is found. Ms. Dunaeva carefully compiled the bibliography of Strauch’s known published works on herpetological topics. This publication also features on the journal's cover the debut of the illustrative plate that accompanied Strauch’s 1862 “Chelonological Studies, With Special Emphasis On the Turtle Collections of the Imperial Academy of Sciences at St. Petersburg” depicting the plastron, carapace, and profile illustration of a western pond turtle shell specimen collected “in the Rio Sacramento of California.” ««