Weighing in at 99 grams, just like last September, Tortuga was the seventh turtle to come out of hibernation… or the fifth to come out voluntarily (sorry Ford Prefect and Googol). Interestingly, Tortuga appears to be another offspring of Yedlin and Boxy, and only these siblings have come out of hibernation so far (with the exception of Bloopy Beans, who doesn’t appear to be related to anyone else). If we are able to collect a larger number of DNA samples from box turtles over a wider range, I would be curious to know if these turtles happen to match up with a more northerly population, and are therefore more cold tolerant, although I do know of at least one person who kept box turtles and reported that those from southern regions emerged from hibernation earlier than native New Jersey turtles. In our own observations, however, one of our box turtles who definitely comes from farther south (Albert, who is a three toed box turtle) did not come out of hibernation last year until May; we’ll have to see what happens this year.
Yesterday, two of my students brought in frog eggs, and I placed them into the shallow pools. Since this is so early in the season (it is still technically winter), and since they are rather large, I am guessing that these might have come from wood frogs (Rana sylvatica). If that is what they turn out to be, they will find company in our courtyard, since I did accidentally stumble upon one last year.
One other returning species that I hadn’t yet expected to see was an individual from our resident population of Italian wall lizards (Podarcis sicula). During my first year at Riverside, way back in the spring of 2011, I heard somebody tell me that they’d seen “salamanders or lizards” along the side wall of our school, and when I heard that they moved quickly, I decided that they must be lizards. Salamanders wouldn’t have been a surprise, since they are fairly common in the area (but they’re slow-moving), and before that moment, I’d never heard of lizards in the Princeton area. There are a few lizard species that are native to New Jersey, but only once had I ever been lucky enough to see a baby five lined skink (Eumeces fasciatus).
I never got a good look at any of these original lizards, since they scattered quickly whenever a human came close. Two years later, however, fourth grade teacher Terry McGovern managed to catch a lizard on the playground, which I quickly identified as an Italian wall lizard (Podarcis sicula). I have read about how these lizards had been released on Long Island several decades ago, and that the population was still doing fine–so fine, in fact, that it appears they’ve made it to New Jersey!
Unfortunately, that first lizard that Mr. McGovern caught ended up drowning in the water dish of the terrarium I’d set up. I’d thought that he’d have no trouble hopping out of the water if he ever fell in, but I was obviously mistaken.
On the deck of our courtyard today, I’ve been able to confirm that this was not the only lizard of its kind in our area, since another wall lizard was sunning itself on the wood!