Why did the turtle cross the road? To get to the Clutier Library!

Tama Co. Conservation holds turtle ‘meet and greet’

Bexley Stechcon, center, smiles broadly while accepting the handoff of an ornate box turtle during a Tama Co. Conservation program held at Clutier’s public library earlier this month. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

CLUTIER – Three live turtles who usually make their homes in the basement of Otter Creek Lake & Park Nature Center safely crossed several roads (by vehicle) earlier this month while on a field trip to Clutier as part of the public library’s summer programming.

The turtle ambassadors along with Naturalist Raina Genaw were greeted by a full house on Aug. 1 in the one-room library with 11 area children from babies up to middle schoolers in attendance alongside their caregivers and library director Patti Kupka.

Genaw began the program by introducing Van Gogh, a male painted turtle, to the gathered group.

“The reason that he’s called a painted turtle is because he has these really pretty lines all over him that people say look like brush strokes,” Genaw explained to the clearly captivated young audience. “So it kind of looks like someone took some yellow paint and just painted right on that turtle.”

Using both Van Gogh and two unnamed resident ornate box turtles, Genaw spent roughly 30 minutes sharing interesting facts and tidbits about turtles including how to tell the difference between land and aquatic turtle species (aquatic turtles have much smoother shells), and also why male box turtles appear to be so much ‘prettier’ (being fancy essentially helps the males ‘get a girlfriend,’ Genaw said with a chuckle).

Participants in the Aug. 1 Tama Co. Conservation program held at the Clutier Public Library including (l-r) Kasie Quigley, Kourtney Fink, Kaylee and Sophia Quigley, Bexley and Berkley Stechcon, and Briley Wildman check out a pair of ornate box turtles, fittingly contained in a plastic box. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

At one point Genaw passed around a turtle scute for the kids to examine. A scute, she explained, is what makes up the outer layer of a turtle’s shell. Turtles shed their scutes as they grow with an adult turtle shedding the papery, thin scales about twice a year.

Iowa boasts 13 turtle species including the snapping turtle. While Genaw only brought two of the species to Clutier, the nature center also cares for a baby snapping turtle named Petunia.

“Every so often, I’ll pick [the snapping turtle] up, and it will not like that,” Genaw told the group.

While holding a biting snapping turtle — thankfully — wasn’t part of the program that day, participants were given the opportunity to hold Van Gogh and the box turtles as long as they remembered to keep their faces and hands away from the turtles’ mouths, to never turn the turtles upside down (they don’t like it), and to only touch the turtles’ shells.

“To the turtle, it kind of feels like you’re touching their nails,” Genaw explained. “So they can feel it – but just a little bit.”

Tama Co. Naturalist Raina Genaw (off frame) displays a female ornate box turtle for all to see during an educational program held at the Clutier Public Library on Aug. 1. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

As the kids gently passed the turtles around their half circle – or backed themselves away slowly from the whole ordeal entirely – Genaw shared one last fact, before taking questions, about how the ornate box turtle got its name.

“The reason that these guys are called box turtles, is because when they get really, really scared … they’ll tuck their head and their legs and tail and everything inside their shell. And then this little flap will come up and close their shell like it’s a box.”

Since no box turtles elected to wrap themselves up for USPS delivery during the Clutier visit, it’s safe to assume the trip to Clutier was a ‘turtle’ success.

For more information on arranging a Tama County Conservation educational program, email Genaw at rgenaw@tamacounty.org or call 641-484-2231.

A non-comprehensive list of the county’s Conservation program offerings can be found here: https://www.tamacounty.iowa.gov/files/conservation/educational_program_guide_63517.pdf

Van Gogh, Tama County Conservation’s resident painted turtle, looks up at the camera from inside a plastic tub at the Clutier Public Library on Aug. 1. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

Briley Wildman, center, holds Van Gogh, Tama Co. Conservation’s resident painted turtle during a program held at the Clutier Public Library on Aug. 1, while Bexley Stechcon, left, looks on. Elora Burton, right, is also pictured. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

Bexley Stechcon, center, takes a peek inside a shell that once belonged to a painted turtle during a program held at the Clutier Public Library on Aug. 1. Her younger brother Berkeley, left, is pictured beside her. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER


Inquisitive Clutier residents including (l-r) Kaylee and Sophia Quigley, Bexley and Berkley Stechcon, Briley Wildman, and Elora Burton get to know a pair of Tama Co. Conservation box turtle ambassadors on Aug. 1 at the public library. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER