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better than quote his words. "In the mouths of April and May, great numbers seek for this pur-
pose [the laying of eggs] the sandy shores of desolate islands, or the uninhabited banks of certain
rivers, where they are least liable to interruption in their work of reproduction. The Tortugas
Islands are a favorite haunt; -these are four or five uninhabited sand banks, which are only visited
by turtlers and wreckers. Between these islands are deep channels, so that the Turtles come at
once to a good landing. They are not confined, however, to these islands, but are found abun-
dantly on keys and inlets on the main. The female arrives by night. Slowly and cautiously she
approaches the shore, and if undisturbed, crawls at once over the sand above high water mark;
here with her fins she digs a hole one or two feet deep, in which she lays her eggs, between one
and two hundred in number. These ' she arranges in the most careful manner, and then scoops the
loose sand back over the eggs, and so levels and smooths the surface that few persons on seeing
the spot could imagine that anything had been done to it.' This accomplished, she retreats s|>eedily
to the water, leaving the eggs to be hatched by the heat of the sun, which is generally accomplished
in about three weeks. 2 Two or three times in the season does the female return to nearly the same
spot and deposit nearly the same number of eggs, so that the amount annually would be four or
five hundred." 3 The young make their way at once to the water, but many of them fall a prey to
the various carnivorous birds which frequent the breeding grounds.

USES. The flesh of the Green Turtle is considered an excellent article of diet, and forms the
basis of the well-kuowu "turtle soup." Two portions of the body have received special names in
the language of cookery. These are " calipash," a name for the flesh which is attached to the
upper shell of the Turtle, and is of a dull greenish color; aud "calipee," the corresponding name
for the flesh adhering to the lower shell, which is of a yellowish hue.

The animal is brought to the markets of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and other cities
regularly during the season, and large numbers are sold. The Pacific species, Professor .Ionian
informs me, is seen from time to time in the markets of San Francisco, being brought in occasionally
by vessels coming from the south. The eggs of the Atlantic Green Turtle are eairerly sought for,
both on our coast and in the West Indies, and are valuable both as food and on account of the oil
they furnish. I am informed by a prominent manufacturer of soap that the article bearing the
name of turtle-oil" soap is in reality made from beef or other fats, and contains not the least
modicum of turtle oil. The name is simply a trade name"; no turtle oil has been imported into
the United States for many years.

'KNIGHT: Proem-dings Boston Society of Natural History, 1870, p. Hi.
* Agassi z says tin- i-rioil cannot I"- I'-*" than seven weeks.
1 HOLBROOK: Op. ci'., i>. ').



The marsh and river Tortoises constitute a large group, well represented in North America.
It includes all the Tortoises which live in the marshes, fresh and salt, and in ponds and running
streams. It may be conveniently divided into six sections, comprising (1) the Soft-shelled
Tortoises; (2) the Snapping Turtles; (3) the Musk Tortoises; (4) the Fresh-water Terrapins; (5)
the Salt-water Terrapin and Geographic Tortoises ; (6) the Pond Tortoises.

RANGE OF THE SOFT-SHELLED TORTOISES. The species of Soft-shelled Tortoises, TrionychUlce,
inhabiting our country are six in number, and belong to two different genera, known scientifically
as Amyda and Aspidonectes. Their combined range extends from Lake Champlain, the Lower Saint
Lawrence, and the Upper Hudson on the east, westward through the great lakes and Northwestern
States, to the Yellowstone and Musselshell Rivers; thence southward, east of the Rocky Mountains,
to Eastern Texas; thence along the Gulf States to Florida, and from there northward, west of the
Alleghanies, to the Upper Hudson.

"In the Northwestern States, two species occur together, belonging to two different genera,
Amyda mutica and Aspidonectes spinifer; in the middle Western States one species, Aspidonectes
nuchalis; in the South-Eastern and Southern States, two species, belonging to two different genera,
Platypeltis [Aspidonectes] ferox and Aspidonectes asper;^ and in the South-West, in Texas, one species,
Aspidonectes Emoryi."' 1

These Tortoises seem to be known everywhere in the country under the single name "Soft shell
Turtle." As the habits of all the species are very similar, it will be scarcely necessary to consider
each separately. They vary in length from six or eight inches to two feet or even more, and their
weight is from four or five pounds to fifteen or sixteen pounds. Probably the largest species is A.

FOOD. The food of the Soft-shell Turtles consists of small fishes, snails, and other small
animals, and a-variety of vegetable matter. It is said that some species do great damage in potato
fields, situated near the streams they inhabit, since they are very fond of browsing on the steins.
It is improbable, however, that they go very far from the water. They are most frequently seen
on the margin of sluggish, shallow streams, their bodies buried in the mud, and only the tip of their
long sin nit protruding, or crawling over the muddy bottom of the stream, or floating on its surface.
The fact of their fierceness has been regarded with doubt by some authorities, but they will
undoubtedly bite severely if provoked. They breed in June and July, seeking a dry sandy spot
on the bank of the streams they inhabit, in which to deposit their eggs. The female leaves the
water for this purpose, and returns to it immediately after the eggs are laid, leaving them to be
hatched by the heat of the sun. The number of eggs is large, varying from thirty or forty to sixty
or seventy.

ECONOMIC VALUE. Soft-shell Turtles are commonly eaten in the regions where they occur,
and are frequently seen in the markets. Their flesh furnishes a superior article of food, surpassing,
it is said, in delicacy the flesh of the Green Turtle. The eggs also are considered very excellent.
The Turtles are captured with hook and line, almost any bait being suitable, for they snap greedily
at any kind of food. They are also shot with the rifle while sunning themselves or floating on the
surface of the water. Mr. E. C. Pridgen, of Oakohay, Mississippi, informed me that the eggs are
discovered by following the tracks of the animal to the nest, the location of which is recognized by
the presence of a little depression of the earth.

'Both belong to the same genus, according to Cope. See COPE: Check-list, North American Batrachia and
Eeptilia, 1875, p. 51.

-AIJASSI/.: Contributions to the Natural History of the Unitt-d Statvs, i, 1857, pp. 402, 403.



NOETH AMERICAN SPECIES. The Snapping Turtles, or Ghelydridas, of the United State*
are two ill number, belonging to two different genera, Chelydra and Macrocliely*. The more
northern species, Chelydra nerpentina, known everywhere throughout the United States an the
"Snapping Turtle," is very widely distributed. It has been found as far north as Nova Scotia,
and its range extends from that point southward to Florida and the Gulf States, and westward to
tin- Slutrs iiiiiiifdiately mi (In- \vi-M li.ink ut'lln- Mi^i-^ipiM Knn. li h;iv i : .,i 1.,-. i, recorded
from farther west than the limits given, but it is probable that it occurs even as far as the Sierra
Nevadas. The southern species, Macrochelys lacertina, known as the "Alligator Turtle," or " Log-
gerhead," 1 is found in western Georgia, and in all the States bordering on the Gulf, from Florida
to Texas. It also occurs in Missouri, where it is said to receive the name "Caouane."

SIZE. The northern species is considerably smaller than the southern ; twenty or thirty
pounds may be considered the maximum weight of the former, but the latter commonly attains a
weight of fifty or sixty pounds, and frequently as much as one hundred. In both the strength of
the jaws is very great. I have myself seen an "Alligator Snapper," of perhaps* forty pounds
weight, bite the handle of a broom quite in two when enraged.

Both species inhabit running streams and stagnant, muddy ponds and lakes, but they
apparently prefer the latter. 4 They are sometimes seen at a considerable distance from the
water, walking with a constrained and limping gait, very similar to that of the Alligator. At
such times they are probably in search of food or of a suitable place for the deposit of their eggs.
Their food consists of various animal matter, fishes, frogs, and shells, and lastly of ducks and
other water fowl, which they draw under water to be devoured at leisure.

BREEDING SEASON AND HABITS. The breeding season of the Snapping Turtle is in June,
in the North from the 10th to the 25th (Chelydra serpentina). In preparing to deposit its eggs, it
"excavates at first directly downward, and then laterally, so that the widest part of the hole, in
which the eggs are deposited, is on one side of the external opening of the nest. Hence a stick
thrust straight into the mouth of the nest would not touch the eggs, which are laid in the lateral
dilation of the excavation.

"The fact that these animals oftentimes dig several holes before selecting one for deposit, shows
that they exercise a discrimination with regard to the fitness or uufltness of these several spots for
the encouragement and rapid development of their young. When engaged in digging or laying, not-
withstanding their habitual shyness at other times, they seem utterly unconscious of any intruder,
but proceed in their occupation till it is finished, and then trampling down and smoothing over the
earth, so that when dry the place of the nest may not be noticeable, leave the spot and disappear
among their usual haunts." 3 The place of deposit is usually at a short distance from the water
in a sandy bank. The number of eggs varies from twenty to forty, or even more.

Regarding the breeding habits of the Alligator Turtle little is exactly known, but they are
probably similar to those of the Snapping Turtle.

ECONOMIC VALUE. Both the Snapping Turtle and the Alligator Turtle are esteemed UK food,
and are commonly eaten by the ]>eople in the localities where they occur. The former is generally
considered inferior to the Soft-shell Turtles, or the Green Turtle, while it is claimed by some,
although it seems hardly probable, that the flesh of the latter is even more delicate than that of
the Green Turtle. In old animals, at any rate, the smell of musk is very strong and disagreeable.

'This is not to be confounded with the marine Loggerhead.

During the summer of 1877 two specimens of Snapping Turtle were caught in the Bait waten of Proyincelown
Bay, Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

'AGA881Z- Contributions to the Natural History of the Kniti-d States, ii, 1857, pp. 500, 501.


The Snapping Turtle is regularl.v seen in spring in the markets of Washington, dressed for
cooking, that is, having the under part of the shell and the entrails removed. The eggs of both
species are comparatively small, but delicate, and are eaten in many localities. They may he
found by probing in the sand with a small rod, in places indicated by the tracks of the animal.

A large proportion of the commercial supply of the Snapping Turtle, as the observations of
Capt. J. W. Collins show, is derived from Delaware.

Storer remarks that in many localities in the interior of Massachusetts the oil of the Snapping
Turtle is carefully preserved on account of its supposed curative properties for bruises and strains,
when externally applied. 1 The carapace is used by the Indians as a rattle and ornament.


CHARACTERISTICS OF THE MUSK TORTOISES. It is perhaps scarcely necessary to mention
the Musk Tortoises, or Cinosternidce, in this connection. They are of small size, and possess a
very strong and rank scent of musk, which makes them entirely unavailable as a source of food
supply. Indeed, the exceeding rankness of the odor of one species, Aromochelys odorata, has
gained for it the very expressive appellation of "Stink-pot." They are very troublesome to fisher-
men, in placid waters, often swallowing the bait so quietly as to produce no agitation of the float,
so that their presence for some time is unperceived. They are often seen devouring dead and
decaying animals in streams, and therefore undoubtedly prove efficacious as scavengers. In fact,
it has been surmised that one cause of the prevalence of yellow fever in the Southern States is to
be found in the wholesale destruction of various Tortoises which feed on the refuse vegetable and
animal matter which collects in the rivers, some for food and others because supposedly obnoxious.

DISTRIBUTION. Of the six species of Musk Tortoises inhabiting the United States, three are
found only in Arizona and the Sonoran region generally, one in the Southern States, except lower
Florida and Texas, and the remaining three in the Eastern and Southern States, and the central
States westward to the extremities of the tributaries of the Mississippi.


. TEKRAPINS AND POND TORTOISES. In the group of Terrapins and Pond Tortoises are
comprised about one-half of all the Tortoises inhabiting the United States. The members of the
group vary greatly in habits and size and in other relations. Exclusive of the Marine Turtles,
they furnish the greater proportion of the reptilian food of the country. All the species are
available for food; that is to say, none of them have disagreeable qualities such as the Musk
Tortoises, for instance, possess, but some are too small and others of too rare occurrence to
furnish any considerable supply.

The Emydida: of the United States have been divided among six genera, 2 based 011 certain
differences of their structure, and since the division is a convenient one for the present purpose,
we will adopt it and treat of the species of each geuus together.

TUB FRESH-WATER TERRAPINS. The habitat of the members of this group is decidedly
southern, for they are rarely seen north of the forty-first parallel of latitude. They live in moist
and marshy localities and in running water, their structure being well adapted for semi-aquatic
and aquatic life. Some .are vegetable feeders, while of hers are carnivorous. The genus includes
seven North American species. Of these the most important is the "Red-bellied Terrapin,''
Pseudemys rugosa. The 'animal is also known under the names "Potter," "Red-fender," and

'STOnKR: Report on tht> Fishes, Rrptils, ami Hir<ls of M:iss:u-lnis"tt, 1839, p. 213.
"CoPE: Chcck-liHt of North Aiiir-rii-an l<;itrarlnn iiml Krptilin, Ih7. r >, pp. 5'i. 53.

TIII: I.T.D I'.FI.MKD TKKHAPIN OR si.mr.i:. i;,;,

Slider." Its raii^e M-.-IIIS to be limited i,> tin- Delaware River, tin- Sii.s<|iicli:iniia Itiver, and other
streams emptying into < 'hcsapeakc I'.a.v. It is common in the vicinity of Washington, and is
frequently seen in the markets in considerable numbers. It is a large sjiedes; tilt' shell is usually

!< eleven indies in length. As has been already stated, the Red bellied Terrapin is regularly

in the market-;, and as it is more abundant and less esteemed than the "Diamond back
it is usually much lower in price. It is commonly substituted in certain proportion for
the "Diamond-luck" in mak ing terrapin stew.

Aside from its somewhat slow growth there is apparently no reason why this Terrapin should
not le introduced into waters both north and south of its present range. It furnishes a very
considerable amount of nutritious food at no expense to the producer.

THE MOBILIANEE. Another important species is that known as the " Mobilianer,"
1'xi-itili-niys mobilienaia. This is perhaps the largest representative of the genus or of the whole
group in the United States. The shell is often from 14 to 16 inches in length. It is found more
or less abundantly in all the Gulf States, from extreme Western Florida to the Rio Grande of
Texas. Its form would suggest that it lives mostly in the water. Of what its food consists is
not definitely known, but it is undoubtedly mostly of a vegetable character. It is considered
<inite delicate, and is esteemed as food. It is frequently sold in the markets of Mobile, New
< >i leans, and other Southern cities. 1

THK YELLOW-BELLIED TEURAPIN. Pseudemya iicabra, a species which occurs in the Carolinas,
Georgia, and Northern Florida, is used to a considerable extent for food. It is known popularly
as the "Yellow-bellied Terrapin." That it is a very abundant species, at least in Florida, we may
learn from the following note, communicated to the Boston Society of Natural History in 1870, by
the Hev. 0. F. Knight:

"In the early summer [this species] congregates in great numbers in the shallow parts of
certain lakes, and the warm and still bayous near the mouths of those streams which empty into
the Gulf. On one occasion the speaker [Mr. Knight], floating quietly down stream, came upon
one of these gatherings where there seemed to be many thousands within the space of two or
three acres, covering every log and stump and hummock almost as thickly as shingles lie upon a

The Yellow-bellied Terrapin is largely a carnivorous animal. It lives on small reptiles and
other such animals as it can capture in the streams and jmnds which it inhabits. In confinement,
however, it will condescend to partake of vegetable food, particularly of the common purslain,
Portulaca oltracen. of which it seems quite fond. It is frequently brought to Charleston, South
Carolina, and other Southern markets in considerable numbers. The flesh is not considered as
delicate as that of the "Diamond back Terrapin," but the amount furnished is greater.

OTHER SPKCIKS. Of the remaining species it will be necessary to speak only of Pseudemys
coiivinna. The other three species, l'*finlemy hieroglyphica, inhabiting the Middle, Western, and
Gulf States, P*euilumy* Trooxtii, inhabiting the Mississippi Valley, as far north as Illinois, and
I'.-.' iidemys ek-gann, inhabiting Ohio and Texas and the States through which the western and
northern tributaries of the Mississippi Ifiver flow, seem not to be sufficiently abundant to furnish
regular supplies of food. Pseitflcmyx conrinnd, the "Florida ('outer,'' is found in all the Southern
States, from southern North Carolina to Florida, and from thence westward to Texas, ami al.so iu
Arkansas. They seem to prefer brackish waters, but are found also in fresh water streams.
Their diet is principally ofanimal matter; in Florida they are said to teed upon certain species of
worms which they capture by thrusting their long claws into the worm-holes in I he clay. Although

1 HOLBIIOOK: North AiH.-ii.-aii H.-rin-tology, i, l4i, )>. 71.


not as abundant as the Yellow-bellied Terrapin, they are sufficiently so to furnish considerable
food, but whether they are brought to market I am not aware.


Three species of the genus Malacoclemmys inhabit the United States. By far the most
important of these, and the most valuable of all Terrapins, is the Malacodemmys palustris, or
"Diamond-back Terrapin."

The other two species, the Geographic Tortoises, M. geographica and M. Lesueuri, are of .com-
paratively rare occurrence, and are not used for food to any considerable extent.

DISTRIBUTION. The "Diamond back," or "Salt-water Terrapin," is common along our entire
Atlantic coast from Nantucket and New Bedford, in Massachusetts, to Texas. It also occurs in
South America. It was introduced into Italy by the Prince of Canino, a number of years ago, but
of the success of the enterprise I. haVe been unable ,to learn. Those which enter into commerce,

* . * "

however, are principally from Chesapeake Bay and the coast of the Carolinas. Some very fine
ones also come from Egg Harbor, N. J.

CHARACTERISTICS AND HABITS. The Diamond-back lives in salt marshes near the coast, and
is seldom found far from them. They were formerly very abundant in such localities, and could
be often seen on warm days sunning themselves on the bars and flats. But the increasing demand
for them and the wholesale capture of old and young have reduced their numbers very materially.
The species is a comparatively small one, and varies much in external appearance. The females
attain a larger size than the males, and are much more highly prized in market. The average
lengi h of the under part of the shell is seven inches, and the weight of the animal four or five
pounds. Rarely the length reaches ten inches, and the Terrapin weighs about ten pounds. The
fixed standard of length for salable females in most markets is six inches, but in some it is as low
as five inches. Terrapin having that length are known as " counts." The small specimens are
separated into "heifers" and "little bulls"; their under shell rarely exceeds five inches in length.
As has been already said, they are deemed very inferior to the females, and the price of them is
therefore much lower.

In regard to the rate of growth, I have seen it stated that the Diamond-back reaches
maturity, or rather lays eggs, when four years old, but this is hardly probable. It does not accord
with the observations of Agassiz and others, nor with the peculiarities of the group generally.
Experiments made by a dealer in North Carolina seem to show that the species grow about one
inch each year, so that "counts" are at least six years old. Probably ten years at least elapse
before they are fully grown.

FOOD. What the food of the Diamond -back Terrapin is does not seem to be exactly known.
Very probably, however, it consists of such matter, both animal and vegetable, as the animal is able
to find in the marshes in which it lives. When penned, preparatory to sending them to market, they
are fed on crabs, oysters, and fish. To give them the finest flavor they are said to be fed upon
celery for some days previous to being served. In the winter the tortoise hibernates and takes no
food, remaining buried several inches in the mud. Unfortunately for its welfare, a little mound of
mud is always raised above the spot where it disappears, which at once catches the eye of the
terrapin fisherman. A large proportion of the Terrapins are taken while they are in this torpid

BREEDING HABITS. Like all other species of Tortoises, the Diamond back deposits its
eggs on land. When the laying season arrives the female seeks some sandy bar or bank above
water, and having excavated a shallow pit with the hind legs, deposits from five to seven eggs.


The breeding season occurs in the latter part of June and early part of July. It is said that the
young show no disposition to seek the water, but prefer to remain in the sand.

ECONOMIC VALUE. The Diamond-back is highly prized for food. Philadelphia furnishes
the best market for this species, but it is also sold in large numbers in Baltimore, Washington,
New York, Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Saint Louis, and many other cities. The
season lasts from the beginning of October to the first or middle of June; the best months are
October and November. The specimens from North Carolina usually appear in the market last.
The ''counts," or those over six inches long, bring from eighteen to thirty-six dollars per dozen in
the market; the smaller ones are usually sold separately, at prices of from fifteen to fifty cents
apiece. These prices, however, are almost sixty per cent, higher than the prices received by the
catcher, for the Terrapins pass through several hands on their way to market. The majority of
Terrapins are actually caught in the summer months and are penned in yards, known as "crawls,"
until the marketing season arrives. A description of the crawls and of the method of capturing
the Terrapin will be found in the chapter on THE TERRAPIN FISHERY.

There are two principal modes of cooking the Diamond-back Terrapin, one known as the
Maryland style, and the other as the Philadelphia style. The Maryland style is as follows: The
Terrapin is first thrown alive into tepid water, the skin and claws are removed; a second
immersion in the water follows. The under shell is then cut away and the gall-bladder and

Online LibraryG. Brown (George Brown) GoodeThe fisheries and fishery industries of the United States (Volume 1:1) → online text (page 30 of 146)