HAS REMARKABLE TURTLE BIODIVERSITY
of the Southeast may be brought to mind at any time because of their
annual habits. Most mate in the spring, so males are seen moving about
in search of females. All but two kinds lay eggs in spring or summer,
so females on their way to or from nesting sites are often seen crossing
roads, golf courses, even people's yards.
are prevalent in autumn when the babies of many species hatch and emerge
from eggs laid in underground nests. Even in winter, a few of the aquatic
species can be seen basking on logs or large rocks during warm sunny
days in many southeastern lakes, rivers and reservoirs.
has the highest turtle biodiversity in North America, and Alabama has
more species than any other state. As a result of equable climate, complex
geology and a rare combination of major rivers and tributary streams
leading into coastal estuaries, the Mobile Basin is internationally
known among turtle biologists. That area has one of the highest counts
of turtle species diversity in the world.
published book"Turtles of Alabama" (2015, University of Alabama
Press) by Craig Guyer, Mark A. Bailey and Robert H. Mount is ideal for
learning about any turtle native to Alabama, which includes the majority
of turtles found in the United States.
turtles native to Alabama, albeit only as occasional visitors in the
case of sea turtles, are 35 recognized species belonging to seven distinct
families. The authors discuss identifying characteristics, ecology and
behavior, and distribution throughout the state, as well as issues related
to conservation and management of each species of turtle.
description of each species is accompanied by a photograph of an adult.
For many species, a photograph of a hatchling, which can sometimes look
different from the adult, is also included, aiding further in identification.
Another tool to assist with identifying species is the geographic range,
which can often narrow the field of what has been found in a particular
locality. Each species account has a map showing localities where specimens
of each kind have been documented, plus a U.S. map showing the range
of the species in other states.
turtles are represented by two families that include only a single species
found in the state, or anywhere in the Southeast. These are the leatherback
sea turtle and the gopher tortoise.
is the largest living species of turtle in the world, reaching lengths
of up to 8 feet. When they crawl onto a beach, the tracks can be 6 feet
wide, wider than that of any other turtle. Leatherbacks have been seen
in Gulf waters, and according to the book "rare instances of stranded
adults" have been documented for Alabama.
tortoise is likewise a distinctive species but with a dramatically different
ecology. Tortoises of the world belong to a single family and are native
to all of the warm continents except Australia, but only one species
is found in the coastal states of the Southeast, from South Carolina
tortoise is found throughout much of Florida but in Alabama is restricted
mostly to the southern third of the state. This intriguing tortoise
is noted for living in large colonies and digging deep underground burrows
in sandy soil.
these subterranean retreats are "up to 30 feet in length and more
than 15 feet deep" and many serve as important refuges for other
animals. In Alabama west of the Tombigbee River, the gopher tortoise
is officially protected as a threatened species under the Endangered
has almost three dozen species of turtles, including the giant alligator
snapping turtles, each of which is unique in its own ecology and behavior.
The information found in "Turtles of Alabama" will be useful
to anyone who wants to learn more about turtles, no matter where they
occur in the southeastern United States.
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