Tag Archives: Wapsipinicon

Stories from a Turtle’s Shell

21 Jan

Last month I was given a family treasure. Well, in MY mind it is a family treasure.

Here is a little turtle shell that once sat in my Grandmother’s curio cabinet. Way back in the 1960’s I used to look at it and admire it. I wished I had that little turtle shell. I really wished I had the baby turtle.

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Where did it come from? What happened to the poor thing?  The shell is only two inches long. It’s the shell of a Western Painted Turtle. This little turtle probably hatched one Summer and would have been this size by Autumn. And then…I’ll never know.

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My relatives have a cabin along the Wapsipinicon River in Iowa. Very probably this little turtle was born on that river. There are lots of Western Painted Turtles there now.

How’s this for a cosmic thought:  His relatives are living there now. Painted Turtles can live 40 years. Maybe one of his brothers or sisters is still there, and right now is lying under the mud, waiting for Spring. I hope so.

I have had a Central American Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys pulcherimma) since 1990. That’s almost 23 years! She looked old when I got her. If she was 20 years old when I got her she would be 43 now. Again, I can never know the truth.
But look at this, she is missing a foot!
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Her foot was gone when I got her. I’ve always wondered what happened to her foot? I think a predator bit it off!!! These turtles live in Mexico and Central America. Maybe a Jaguar grabbed her!
She also has a big scar on the back end of her shell. A fang mark from the Jaguar!
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I bet the Jaguar figured he was going to eat my turtle but No! She turned around and bit him on the nose! The Jaguar screamed and ran off and then… well, maybe I don’t know for sure.
I have also had a Red-foot Tortoise for 3 years. She (you can tell it’s a she by her stubby little tail) has a shell deformity called “pyramiding”. The shell is not evenly rounded but has peaks and valleys.
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Her shell looked like this when I got her. As she gets older maybe it will look less
pyramided as she gets a better diet and more sunshine.
There is a ton of information about pyramiding in tortoises. One website says pyramiding is caused by:

too much protein
too little calcium
too much phosphorous (a poor calcium :phosphorous ratio)
not enough D3

However there are some less obvious, though equally important factors involved

lack of exercise
hydration status
grain based diets
lack of fiber
too much food

So my Red-foot probably got the wrong diet, too much protein, when she was young. It’s easy to think they like fruits and worms like our native American Box Turtles but Red-foots like to graze on weeds. They eat a lot of roughage like a cow!

Another Wapsi river trip

26 Jul

Here are some pictures from another canoe trip to the Wapsi River. During this trip we released the little Softshell turtles on the exact sandbar where we captured them a few weeks ago.

A Western Painted Turtle. The plastron (underside) of a Painted Turtle is beautiful and looks like someone painted it.


A little Northern Water Snake who released his musky scent onto our hands. Very stinky.


Releasing the little Soft-shell Turtles.


Perfectly suited to it’s environment. The Softshell is sand colored, has a snorkel nose for sneaky breathing, and is fast as lightning when it comes to catching fish for dinner.


I almost brought this stump home but it is 3 feet tall about 4 feet wide, and weighs a lot. It might look good in my turtle pond. It should be there all summer so I still may go get it.


These 2 birds are called Killdeers. They run around on the sand and will fake a wing injury to lure you away from their eggs.


The river is getting low from the drought we are having this year.


We seined these out of a tiny little backwater pond and released them into the main channel.

Soft-shell turtle babies

6 Jul

While we were at the Wapsi, we walked along a sandbar and I saw some little pointy snouts poking out of the sand. I caught two baby Softshell Turtles. I couldn’t resist bringing them home for awhile. I promise they are going back to the Wapsi River later this summer. They get huge; the females have shells the size of a garbage-can lid. Also, they are lightning fast and bite.
But for now, they have adapted to captivity and eat pieces of frozen fish, also dried shrimp and worms. They are carnivores.
After I had them a few days I got brave enough to put them with the baby Red-ears. I thought the Red-ears might be injured since the Softshells are bigger, but the Softshells were afraid of the Red-ears! Now they all get along fine. Another concern of mine was the possibility of wild parasites transferring to my baby Red-ears. That is still a concern and I only hope that it does not become an issue.

Softshells are known to be mostly aquatic but these little guys do bask, and on the river I see them basking on logs.



Here’s another piece of wood I found at the river. I have put it in the tank where my big Red-tail Shark can hide in it. It would be perfect for a Knifefish, wouldn’t it?


Back to the Softshells:

Native fish from the Wapsi

6 Jul

Another trip to the Wapsi River (that’s Wapsipinicon if you are looking for it on a map), and I brought home some beautiful native fish.

This is a baby Bullhead Catfish. Jet-black and cute when young, they get maybe a foot long.


Here’s a little Sunfish.



I captured four Black-Striped Topminnows. They remind me of an Amazon Pencilfish. They hang at the top of the aquarium and eat almost anything.


These fish will end up back at the Wapsi before Winter.

What happens when aquarium keepers go fishing

22 Jun

A friend of mine is just as crazy as I am about fish tanks and other exotic pets. I called him this morning and asked if he would go up to the Wapsi River with me for some canoeing, exploring, and fishing.
As we were unloading our gear we saw a Northern Water Snake hanging along the edge of the boat dock. Across the river I could see a big Softshell Turtle basking on a log.

We canoed into the backwaters of the river and saw several Western Painted Turtles. When we got WAY back into the backwaters the water was still and clear. Frogs were jumping everywhere, and under water we could see huge Bullfrog tadpoles. We noticed two varieties of aquatic plants, Hornwort and Anacharis, and collected a little for our home tanks.
One of my main goals for the day was to find some interesting driftwood to use in my 55 gallon aquarium that will house the baby Red-eared Sliders.
It was fun to canoe in the backwaters. We had to duck under branches and maneuver the canoe around big tree trunks. We saw a Great Blue Heron and some small ducks. Big Carp would swirl in the shallow flats, stirring up the mud.
We went back out to the main channel and, along the way, saw a baby Map Turtle basking on a small log. My friend leaned out of the front of the canoe with a big dip net, holding it underwater, while I paddled quietly and inched him closer and closer. He bumped the log and the little turtle dove right into the net. My friend wants to keep him for awhile and release him later this Summer.

We made our way up to a large sandbar and I picked up some interesting driftwood pieces.

There were thousands of minnows schooling in the shallows.

We found ourselves wandering. We went into the woods and found a little pond filled with hundreds of small frogs. They appeared to be juvenile Bullfrogs, but I think there were some other species as well.
My friend would be searching in one direction and I would be off in the other direction. We had brought our fishing poles but hadn’t touched them.


Off in the distance, my friend is walking along the sandbar, looking for….who knows!


I ended up standing in the water and enjoying it so much that I swam across the river to another sandbar. Not very far at all, but the feel of the current and the cool water really put me in touch with reality. Then I came back to to where my canoe was. My friend had started fishing and had caught a young Largemouth Bass, maybe 6 or 7 inches long. As usual, the fishing looked better on the other side of the river, so I grabbed my fishing pole and swam toward an area of large downed trees. I stood up on a huge tree and watched a big Softshell Turtle come up for a breath. I made a few casts into the shaded areas against the shore and along the tree trunks. No luck, and I got snagged after a few minutes. I pulled on the line and the lure broke off. I watched a Watersnake swim right below me. Reluctantly, I climbed off the log and and went back to the sandbar.

Out on the river, you can barely see me standing on a log where I was fishing…but not catching.


We left the sandbar and I acted as a human trolling motor for my friend as he fished along the driftwood, then the rocks, and finally along the boat docks as we returned to our starting point. He fished like a pro, putting the lure in some very fishy-looking locations but he didn’t catch any.
I dropped him off at his house. He had a very over-populated tank of Mollies. I don’t have any Black Mollies so he gave me some.

I washed off the aquatic plants and put them into a tank with some baby Swordtails. I’ll have to watch closely. There is a good chance some predatory aquatic insect larvae are in those plants.

Baby Green Swordtails that were born a few days ago.


All in all, we fished about an hour and explored for three hours. We had seen frogs, tadpoles, clams, crayfish, ducks,a heron, lots of little fish, snakes and turtles. On the way home both us were chattering about going back as soon as possible.
I think I will give him one or two of my baby Red-ear Sliders and we can take that Map Turtle back to the river where he belongs.

Perfect day at the Wapsi

25 Apr

What is the Wapsi? It’s a river. Short for Wapsipinicon. In Iowa. USA.

Thirty miles straight north of me my canoe is chained to a tree at my Aunt’s cabin.  The cabin was built in the 1940’s by my great-grandfather.

I loaded up my fishing poles, plenty of beer, and my loyal Golden Retriever, Mya.

Mya is 9 years old but we only got her last Fall and I am betting she has never been in a canoe before. This called for some on-shore training before we started.

I placed a rug on the floor of the canoe so she wouldn’t slip. I helped her in and out a few times, like getting her into a bathtub.
Still I was unsure. The water is cold and the river is up and moving. For one person in a 17-foot canoe this might not be the best idea.

It looks peaceful but the current is strong and steady. If she were to leap out while we were in the main channel things could go bad very fast.
We eased into the canoe. She curled up tight against the bottom. I talked to Mya and petted her. In seconds we were out on the river and I decided to head directly into a backwater channel instead of fighting the current.
That turned out to be a great decision. In summer this backwater becomes mucky and stagnant but now the water is high and flowing through, connecting all these little places that can’t be reached any other time of year.
Right off the bat, TURTLES!

…and a beaver. And geese.
I paddled to shore. Mya stepped out calmly and began exploring. I set up the fishing poles, one with a worm on the bottom, one with a worm dangling under a bobber. My theory was that this might be a good fish hang-out. The water is deep, as much as 10 feet in spots, and the bottom is covered in dead tree branches and logs.

I left the bail open on the fishing reels in case something grabbed the bait. A good sized catfish or turtle would pull the whole thing into the water if I weren’t careful. Turns out I didn’t need to worry. No bites.
I brought Mya a baggie of dogfood but she was too busy with other things. I ate a sandwich and drank several beers. On the third beer my imagination had wandered back to a time when my Dad and his brother would have taken a john-boat right through this very backwater passage where I was sitting. It was about 60 years ago and it wasn’t in black-and-white. It was just as green and clear as it was on this day.

Another Spring-time ritual is Houby-hunting. That is, mushrooming. Mya and I wandered away from the fishing poles and into the woods. I spent about an hour combing through piles of dead leaves alongside the old downed trees. I saw lots of Fungi but no Morel mushrooms. I am the world’s worst mushroom hunter, I swear.

I should train Mya to sniff out mushrooms. Is that possible?


I am about like a dog, I suppose, sniffing about all over the place.
Here’s a Green Frog. (not just a green-colored frog, it’s name is the Green Frog, you would think they could have been a little more creative)

..and here’s a ferny-leafed plant that I liked. I need to find out what it is.

…and this group of Whirli-gig beetles. They are an aquatic beetle that swarms on the water’s surface. They swim in circles, and can dive underwater and even fly. I love the way some of these guys are sitting on a stick. Don’t they look like miniature turtles on a log?

Spaulding, is that you?!?!??

You can see the little stick-bobber floating under the tree branch. I craftily casted my line right over the branch. If a fish pulled on it I would see the tree leaves shaking.

You don’t believe I can cast that well? Me either.

More turtles! They were everywhere. Sometimes I could look in all directions and see them. Some were wary, others not so much. They are Western Painted Turtles.

We hopped back into the canoe. Mya was acting like an old pro. I headed for a frog pond that normally can’t be reached by boat. We maneuvered through the trees in about a foot of water. The Everglades with no Alligators.

A small flock of ducks exploded out of nowhere. They were Blue-Winged Teal.

I picked up some native Hornwort. I will put it in my 30 gallon pond. The store-bought stuff always burns out in the sunny location of the pond. I ‘ll be very interested to see if this does better.

See how Mya is starting to snooze.

Here’s a piece of driftwood that might look good in an aquarium:

We found a nice little sandbar that is also impossible to reach later in the year. I have tried. As we approached I saw a big Softshell Turtle slip into the water. We got onshore. There were goose tracks in the sand, there were deer tracks, and there were broad drag marks  where an animal had gone from the backwater to a smaller pool of water. A big turtle? Or a beaver. There was a thicket of small Willows and many freshly -cut branches laying in the water.
Mya was really enjoying the experience now. She started venturing deeper into the water.


I found a stick and she got all excited, just like when I get her Frisbee at home.
We were a mile from civilization but it felt like 1000.

Here’s a Leopard Frog, and the Chorus Frogs were calling loudly.

Strangely, at this same location I saw a large dead tadpole underwater and also this dead frog. Did they just die for some reason, or were they killed by an animal that does not eat frogs? In other words, would the Geese kill them but not eat them?

We left the sandbar and I decided to take a shortcut:

Ooops, cold wet feet for both of us.

One more turtle pic as we left the backwater. I must have seen 50 of them.

And that’s my last picture. I thought I had a fully-charged camera battery but I did not. From the very beginning of the day I had “low battery” making me limit my photos.
We had spent about 4 or 5 hours in the backwaters. After packing my gear back into the car I settled onto the couch of the cabin. More beer, some cheese (smoked Gouda) and crackers, some dog food and a dish of water for Mya. She fell asleep on a floor rug. I watched an episode of MASH. One of my kids just read “the stranger” by Albert Camus, so I read a couple chapters. It was getting late.

We went outside and out to the boat dock. I just sat in a chair watching the river go by. I saw greenish-brown water with waves of light blue. I saw those 2 colors.  Monet would have seen 10 more.
I spent a half-hour on the dock, the sun going down, thinking this was the best day I had ever spent on the Wapsi. No fish, no mushrooms, and maybe that led me to see other things just as interesting.
How could this day have been any better?  Picture this:
Six beers, maybe 7. The water pump is set on a concrete pad poured in September of 1947. Little indentations, little footprints . My Dad, 6 years old. I reach down and touch every one of those little toe prints, because I can, because Mya won’t ask me why.