Working with the northern red-bellied cooter hatchlings at the National Marine Life Center has been a real treat. The hatchlings came to the Center on my first day of interning and were practically the size of quarters, but now after only a few months they’ve grown noticeably bigger. Being able to care for and witness the red-bellied hatchlings as they grow into healthy and strong adults has been an incredibly rewarding experience for me.
Caring for the red-bellies ranges from cleaning and maintaining their tank, cataloging their growth, feeding them, providing treatments and administering medications. When we first received the hatchlings we took pictures of all eight individual turtle’s plastrons (the bright red underside for which they are aptly named) in order to ID them, as the plastron is unique to each individual turtle. Cleaning a tank may not sound like a fun task but with the red-bellies its definitely worth it; when else can you say that you had the honor of handling (with care!) endangered baby turtles? Feeding the hatchlings is another enjoyable task, and the hatchlings definitely enjoy it too. Our eight little red-bellies have quite the appetite and can eat almost half a head of lettuce a day! Currently our smallest hatchling receives oral calcium medication daily, and we are hoping that might help speed up his growth. Trying to feed him his calcium medication is like trying to feed a stubborn infant, making the task quite amusing.
The red-bellied hatchlings are full of personality and are a joy to work with. As an intern I don’t get the opportunity to work with the red-bellies every day as more often than not the small-turtle volunteers handle the task, but when I do get the chance to work with them it definitely livens up my day.
Check out the National Marine Life Center’s volunteer page for more information on how you can get involved working with these delightful critters!