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Pine Bush Center staff fascinates children with turtle meet-and-greet

Monday, May 26, 2014
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Folks meet a turtle face to face at the Terrific Turtles educational presentation at Albany Pine Bush Discovery Center on Sunday. L-R: Holly Taormina with children Dominic, 8, and Zoe, 10, of Guilderland.
Folks meet a turtle face to face at the Terrific Turtles educational presentation at Albany Pine Bush Discovery Center on Sunday. L-R: Holly Taormina with children Dominic, 8, and Zoe, 10, of Guilderland.

— Blake Etchison held the children’s attention with turtle pictures and facts Sunday at the Albany Pine Bush Discovery Center.

But the real stars came out partway into the presentation: the turtles themselves.

“Whoa,” was the response when Etchison, educational program assistant at the center, started to bring out the different kinds of turtles, one by one.

“People love turtles,” she said earlier in her program. “That’s why you’re here today, right? A lot of people connect with turtles on a lot of different levels.”

There were turtles on display at the center, but there are also the turtles in the wild, just outside. The program included a hike to a nearby old farm pond in the Pine Bush and, hopefully the chance to see turtles in their native habitat.

The center offered Sunday’s program in conjunction with World Turtle Day, which came Friday.

Etchison showed off the various kinds of turtles found in the Pine Bush, including box turtles, snapping turtles and painted turtles.

There was also a musk turtle, also known as a stink pot. One of the kids correctly guessed that turtle was named as such because it smelled bad. Etchison explained the hard-shelled reptile used its smell — which she described as kind of like an electrical fire — as a defense.

Kristen Boussa and her daughters Coco, 9, and Maddy, 10, said later they’d never seen a musk turtle.

They came out to see all the turtles.

“We just don’t get to see them very often in the wild,” Kristen Boussa said.

Her daughter Coco likes to see them wherever she can.

“I like to see them live, not just in pictures,” she said.

Mark and Matthew Torner, 6-year-old twins from Colonie, were at the event with their grandfather, Ken Sigas.

Mark explained why he was there. “It’s my favorite animal,” he said.

Another kind of turtle that lives in the region, one that can bite if startled, is the snapping turtle, Etchison said. Mature snapping turtles can grow to between 50 and 60 pounds, she said. She asked how many kids in the audience weighed that much.

“They weigh as much as you,” Etchison said. “That’s a big turtle.”

Box turtles, known for how they can pull back into their shell and close up like a box, can live to more than 100 years old. She showed off one that is estimated to be 57 years old.

An age-related fact Etchison apparently didn’t feel the need to point out: That turtle was well beyond its teenage years.

The box turtle, she explained, was rescued years ago from someone who tried to sell it. It’s illegal in New York state to keep native turtles as pets, she explained, and that law protects local populations.

Etchison was asked by one of the parents about turtles crossing the road. Should people help them across?

She replied that about this time of year turtles start moving to lay eggs, sometimes crossing roads to do so. It’s OK to help them in the direction they’re going. But she warned that snapping turtles can reach a surprisingly long distance to bite a helping hand.

She said keeps a snow shovel in her car to safely help them across if she encounters one. But they can make their way across the road on their own, too, she said.

 
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