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Red Bellied Cooters at home at the STEM Academy

by Paula Chambers, Science Teacher – STEM Academy

STEM  Academy students Kileigh Holt, Emma Boen, Nate Zylich, Logan Caucci, Phoebe Johnston, Morgan Howes and Emily Bach adopted  three red bellied cooter turtles this semester!

The students chose to raise the turtles after learning about them in their independent study of endangered species. The students didn’t just want to read about endangered species, they wanted to be involved with helping in more of a hands on way.

They connected with the Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries and learned that the state department was looking for classrooms to care for the hatchlings during the winter months; our 7th and 8th grade students have risen to the challenge.

The turtles, better known as Charlie, Fluffy and Ralph, are weighed and measured each week and the data is reported back to the authorities at the state agency.  During their stay in Room A303, the baby turtles have grown an average of 2 cm a week.

In the spring they will be returned safely to their natural environment in a pond in Plymouth County.  The state will not disclose the specific location as they want to protect the very limited population that still remains there.

Kileigh stated “Before we got the turtles,  we had to do a bunch of research to find information about how they live. We needed to be prepared for the turtles to arrive.

Nate reported that “Red bellied cooter turtles are in danger because of wetland loss, pollution, competing for food, and loss of nesting sites. They live in lakes, ponds, streams, creeks, rivers.”

Logan provided further information on the class pets: “The cooters dig nests in June-July near the water. They lay 10-20 eggs, and they hatch in about 10-16 weeks. Red bellied cooter turtles can live up to 40-55 years long, growing around 10-12.5 inches long. Newborn red bellied cooter turtles are born with a greenish top (shell) and a red (shell) underneath.”

Red Bellied turtle at STEM 3Charlie, Fluffy and Ralph are growing nicely.  When the students were asked what else they learned from the project Emily remarked “Taking care of turtles is a lot more work than we thought!” The turtles eat a head of lettuce every 2 days and the tank is cleaned biweekly.

Other students in Mrs. Chambers class as well as Mrs. Ferreira’s class have now joined in  assisting with the care and maintenance.   The students have taken on the responsibility of environmental stewardship with pride.  Feel free to stop by and visit our classroom pets; donations of Red leaf lettuce would also be greatly appreciated by Mrs. Chambers and Mrs. Ferreira !