Monday, November 21, 2016

Critter Tales: Bowser the Snapping Turtle

By Dani Gariglio, Communications Intern

Bowser has called the Exploration Center home for almost his entire life. And no, we’re not talking about the Bowser from Super Mario, who is always trying to kidnap Princess Peach and defeat Mario once and for all.  The Bowser we’re referring to is an Eastern Snapping Turtle that currently lives at Save The Bay’s Exploration Center.

With a name as fierce as Bowser, and a cartoon counterpart who gets a bad rap, you would think the four-year-old snapping turtle is another villainous creature of the deep blue. However, our snapper loves to eat, swim and relax in his big, roomy tank, all to himself. With his heavily scaled, long clawed, webbed feet, Bowser is able to whirl from one end of his freshwater tank to the other, in just one stroke. Perhaps Bowser is such a good swimmer because of the two extra toes he has on his front left foot! That’s right; Bowser has SEVEN toes on his left foot, and normally snapping turtles only have five!

When you come into the Exploration Center, right under Bowser’s tank you’ll spot a small sign with Mario and Luigi trying to warn you of what kind of mood Bowser is in today. Is he happy? Is he moody? If he’s in a bad mood, he might just jab at your fingers waving at him in front of the tank!

But how did Bowser even get in the Exploration Center, you might ask?

As just a hatchling, a then-tiny Bowser was found at Easton’s Beach in Newport. Save The Bay staff members knew that snapping turtles belong in a freshwater habitat and not at the beach, so Bowser most likely came from the freshwater reservoir across the street. Since he had been at the beach for quite some time, Bowser was covered in sand and salty water, so he was taken to the Exploration Center for a clean up.

Fast forward four years later and Bowser is thriving. He may even be released one day, according to Adam Kovarsky, Save The Bay’s aquarist. The Exploration Center plans on helping Bowser grow to full size before release, because he is a part of a species for which adapting back to his natural habitat is possible.

The Eastern Snapping Turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in Rhode Island. With a neck that can stretch as long as the length of its shell, snapping turtles can be as large as 20 inches, weigh up to 35 pounds and live to be at least 30 years old! Snapping turtles are a top predator in their freshwater habitat niche and have access to a wide variety of their prey, which consists of insects, birds, small mammals, amphibians and even aquatic plants. While snapping turtles have no teeth, they do have powerful jaws and beaks that are used to snap, crush and chomp on their prey. These predators provide a top down pressure on population size, meaning the different feeding levels of the food chain are limited to and reliant on the predators at the top. This type of food chain regulation enables increased biodiversity.

“Increased biodiversity is always a great way to keep habitats healthy and functioning, which adds to the healthy fresh water inputs that drain into the Narragansett Bay through our watershed,” Kovarsky said.

Bowser is an important part of the Narragansett Bay, and also a cherished critter by Save The Bay. Come down to the Exploration Center to meet Bowser and his seven toes, and tons of other amazing critters! Try to find out what kind of mood Bowser is in, too, at the Save The Bay Exploration Center and Aquarium at Easton’s Beach in Newport, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m.–4 p.m.

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