When disaster strikes, most animals head to higher ground. Turtles simply hunker down and ride out the storm.
Fast-moving floodwaters would ordinarily have displaced the turtles in Jones Park’s Turtle Pond, but Hurricane Harvey had a different effect, said Jason Naivar, staff naturalist at Jones Park.
“Unless they can wedge themselves into vegetation or a structure, odds are they will get carried downstream,” he said. “But, with Harvey, the water line was up in the tree canopy. This gave the turtles plenty of places to get stuck in the leaves and branches of the trees and ride out the storm.”
After Hurricane Harvey, Naivar, who teaches Freshwater Ecology at the outdoor aquatics lab, went to check on the turtles. Right away, he noticed a difference.
“The new turtles did not recognize our reptile pellets as food,” he said. “The turtles that rode out the storm went right for them.”
Naivar estimates about half the original turtle population washed away and a few new ones moved in. The fish weren’t so lucky, he said.
“The number of turtles before the storm was estimated at 70 to 80 individuals,” he said. “There is currently a population of 30 to 40 turtles in the pond. The majority are red eared sliders, but there are also two common snapping turtles and about four river cooters.”
Naivar expects the turtle population to rebound after the flood. The Turtle Pond contains everything turtles need to survive, he said.
“Most aquatic turtles are omnivorous and have a wide variety in their diet,” said Naivar. “With plenty of small fish, insects, and aquatic vegetation still around after the storm, they have a very steady source of food. They are also opportunistic, feeding on dead frogs or other small animals left after the flood.”
The best place to view the turtles is from the dock by the aquatics lab, which was not damaged during the storm. When it’s not in use, visitors and volunteers can use the lab as a rest stop at the park’s Turtle Pond, located along the Cypress Overlook Trail.