From the Curator: Aquatic Turtles of McGovern Lake


August 18, 2020
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I’ve been doing aquatic bird surveys at McGovern Lake in Hermann Park for over a decade, but that will have to be a blog topic for the future!  Every now and then my son comes with me, and he’s pretty much a reptile-magnet.  

We now have documented the following four species of freshwater turtles at McGovern: 

Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans)

There are MANY of these! They can often be seen sitting on a log basking in the sun. Many are probably offspring of intentionally released pets from owners who didn’t realize they were doing a disservice to the environment.

Pallid Spiny Softshell (Apalone spinifera pallida)

Although we haven’t found many, we did find a range of ages including some BIG mommas coming on land to lay their eggs.

Common Snapper (Chelydra serpentina)

We’ve seen a couple of good-sized adults in the western, shallower parts of the lake.

Common Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus)

Also in the shallower end of McGovern, just a couple of weeks ago we found our first Stinkpot (another name for the horrible musk they release as a defense mechanism)! My fellow curator Tina Petway, a serious turtle geek, was so excited about this that she asked me to write this blog.

One of the exciting aspects is that we found FOUR species of aquatic turtles in a relatively small lake! Four species may not sound like high turtle diversity, but when you consider the small size of this 8-acre urban lake, it’s surprising.

The other interesting question is how these turtles got here. I suppose the sliders could be released pets, but the others are kind of locked in (parking lot to the east, zoo to the south, Fannin/Main Streets to the west, Med Center to the southwest, Rice University to the northwest). Perhaps they are dispersing from the Braes Bayou, but it’s got to be around half a mile at the closest straight-line distance, and they would have to navigate traffic. An interesting mystery!

In this time of staying Covid-safe, it’s fun to get out and explore nature – you never know what might turn up!

Authored By Dan Brooks

As the HMNS Curator of Vertebrate Zoology, Dr. Dan is known as ‘the guy with the most backbone’ in the museum! He curates four permanent exhibits at the museum, where he was worked as a full-time staff member since 1999. He has described 10 new species to date, and is very active in local (hmns.org/houstonwildlife) and international (Southeast Asia and Latin America) wildlife research, especially with gamebirds. Afflicted with the inability to ‘shake the nature bug’, when he’s not at work in the museum, one of his favorite things to do is scouting and exploring the great outdoors with his family.



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