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The turtle — a master of wintering

Painted turtle
Painted turtles are masters at surviving below the ice where oxygen is scarce. NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag

Some of the most common wildlife have the most magnificent capabilities.

Painted turtles basking on a log is a familiar scene at ponds throughout Nebraska and much of the United States during summer months. Where, though, do those turtles go when temperatures drop and a heavy sheet of ice surrounds that log and covers that pond from shore to shore?

This article provides some interesting information about how painted turtles, snapping turtles and other species of shelled reptiles survive the winter. Remarkably, they adjust their metabolism and use cloacal respiration to glean just enough oxygen from the water to survive without coming up to breathe the cold air into lungs as we do. Or, to put it as the eye-catching headline to the article does, they breathe through their butts.

The article also briefly mentions our state reptile, the box turtle, and its special tolerance to freezing temperatures. It too ekes out the cold in hibernation and re-emerges when warmer temperatures arrive.

Seems we all slow down a little when winter rolls around. True to the stereotype, however, those enduring turtles do it a little better than most of us.

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About Justin Haag

Justin Haag has served the Commission as a public information officer in the Panhandle since 2013. His duties include serving as regional editor for NEBRASKAland Magazine. Haag was raised in southwestern Nebraska, where he developed a love for fishing, hunting and other outdoor pursuits. After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chadron State College in 1996, he worked four years as an editor and reporter at newspapers in Chadron and McCook. Prior to joining the Commission in 2013, he worked 12 years as a communicator at Chadron State, serving as the institution’s media and public relations coordinator the last five. He and his wife, Cricket, live in Chadron, and have two children.

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