“How many turtles can sit on a log
depends on the log -not the turtle.
Turtles can stack if the need does arise
but to lengthen a log is a hurdle.”
It was upon the occasion of a recent bird walk that I stumbled across an unusual site. In theory, one should be looking up during such an activity but my eye was drawn to an impressive sight down at the water level. The subjects were reptilian and not avian in nature. I guess I was breaking a few birding rules in this process, but because I was leading the hike at the time this kind of thing didn’t matter. I was looking at a bunch of turtles on a log.
In most circumstances, the sight of turtles sunning on a log doesn’t merit more than a glance. To date, probably the most impressive “turtle on log” sightings involved a lone map turtle perched high above the water on an exposed root like a high dive act and a snapping turtle in a tree. Up until this year I had never seen a Snapping Turtle actually sunning itself. Last month I saw a sizable Snapper that had hauled itself well up onto the trunk of a fallen tree (see photo below). It took a header and dropped like boulder as I approached.
Getting back to the present case, however, it was a matter of sheer quantity that prompted my gawking factor. The morning sun was just peeking through the trees on the opposite bank of the Detroit River. The exposed (above water) portion of the tree limb was probably only about ten feet long. There were no fewer than 41 turtles positioned along that length– a figure determined after the fact through intense photo analysis (1 turtle, 2 turtle, 3 turtle, four…).
I’m sure this is not a record by any stretch but it was a personal record. The turtles were Map Turtles (as indicated by their high ridged shell) and they are famous for such communal sunning feats. They will often stack up on each other two or three high. Only a few of these turtles were actually stacked and I have the feeling that this gang wasn’t finished yet. You’ll note at least a dozen more little heads sticking up in the surrounding water. These were turtles waiting in line to gain access to the log (which was apparently the only parking lot for miles around!).
Apart from the numbers, the arrangement of this crowd was amazing. Again I refer you to the picture. These two shots overlap by about eight turtles. Nearly the entire contingent of little map turtles were on the right side (see top picture). They were facing left. Most of the big map turtles were on the left side and they were equally divided into left facing and right facing pose (see bottom picture). The only remaining space was upon the shell of the bigger turtles and a few of the little guys were beginning to stack upon the big ones. Who knows how many would have eventually covered the log? Unfortunately, I had to go look for birds and we will never know the answer.