Las vegas park

Turtles thrive in quirky house in North Las Vegas park


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Wade Vandervort

Red-eared turtles bask at Craig Ranch Regional Park in North Las Vegas on Thursday, April 22, 2021.

Turtles are easily spotted in the ponds of Craig Ranch Regional Park in North Las Vegas.

On these hot late spring days, enough convex shells rise out of the water to make the ponds look like a colossal bowl of sensitive grain puffs.

It’s unclear how many turtles – mostly red-eared sliders, based on a quick visual examination – glide and bask in one of the valley’s largest parks, but observant regulars might think there are some. has more than usual, even for this proliferating species.

Cass Palmer, director of the North Las Vegas parks system, said her department monitors urban wildlife in city parks, but neither parks nor animal control departments actively monitor or manage resident creatures. . Neither does the Nevada Department of Wildlife, a spokesperson for the agency said, as turtles are domesticated animals – displaced pets or their offspring.

Turtles aren’t meant to be in North Las Vegas by nature or by design. Red-eared sliders in particular are native to the humid subtropics of the southeastern United States, where they inhabit warm, calm waters. The roughly 750,000 gallons of water bodies at Craig Ranch, which also attract herds of Canada geese and mallards, are man-made irrigation ponds, but these are good enough for the hardy and resistant turtle. keratin.

“We don’t store the pond,” Palmer said. “They are all either native (born) and find their way there – or mostly, people release their pets into the pond.”

With their alert expressions, striking markings, long necks and tilted heads cutting a classic profile, the Red-eared Sliders are the best-selling turtles in the world.

But even let loose by their guardians, the animals clearly thrive, said Kayla Bieser, a professor of biology at Nevada State College, a specialty herpetologist who has done extensive research on red-eared sliders.

Red-eared Cursors are hardy, opportunistic omnivores and have few natural predators here. Females lay up to 20 eggs at a time, three to four times per season. (Raccoons can dig nests, but raccoons are rare in the Las Vegas Valley.) And they don’t need pristine environments – a hallmark of an invasive species, because red-eared sliders are considered in Nevada and around the world.

End result: lots of turtles in the desert. A lot.

click to zoom in the picture

Red-eared turtles bask at Craig Ranch Regional Park in North Las Vegas on Thursday, April 22, 2021.

“I was surprised too,” said Bieser, whose doctoral research focused on environmental influences on sex determination in turtles. “And then I was like, well, there’s water, there’s food, there’s heat. That’s all these guys need.

Turtles eat algae and other plant matter, as well as insects and larvae, as well as food that people bring to ducks and geese, although they shouldn’t. And since it is not a solitary animal, a large cohort suits them well. Bieser said she was unaware of any situation where there were too many red-eared sliders for a population to thrive.

A conscientious pet owner will keep them in a large tank with a UV heat lamp and rocks for lounging and follow their varied diet and copious droppings. A large specimen can be up to 10 inches long and weigh 7 pounds, and it can live 20 years or more in captivity.

A turtle owner who cannot engage might simply drop the animal into a pond in the park.

The Department of Wildlife lists Red-eared Cursors (scientific name Trachemys scripta elegans) in its Nevada Aquatic Invasive Species Management Plan as a species of higher concern but with possible control options and limited geographic distribution. The concern may be more about how the Red-eared Sliders might compete with one of Nevada’s native turtle species, the Western Turtle found in natural waterways in the Reno / Carson City area. . At worst, they’re a nuisance in southern Nevada, and people might not rate them that way, Bieser said.

If food is lacking or disease sets in, it could regulate the population. People can present them, but may not easily remove them.

“At the end of the day, unless you stop installing the source, like preventing people from continuing to release turtles, most of these mitigation measures haven’t really worked out anyway,” Bieser said. “It’s just for the turtles to create their own carrying capacity. “

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