by VIC JAKES
The excessive rain triggered by the La Nina weather pattern this summer caused the creek at the entrance to my property to flood over the bridge on a number of occasions. While there is a large culvert that normally permits all the water to flow downstream, higher flood levels result in water flowing through several smaller pipes incorporated towards the top of the bridge structure. At times, to prevent water levels rising above the bridge surface, it is necessary to clear vegetation and debris from the entrance to these upper pipes to maximise water flow, which can only be achieved by feeling down towards the pipe entrance and removing any blockage by hand.
On one particular occasion, while trying to clear the leaves and branches blocking these pipes, I suddenly felt movement in the murky water at the pipe entrance. I intuitively knew that a turtle had become trapped in the pipe entrance, its shell too large to go through the pipe, with the water pressure more than sufficient to ever let the creature escape before the water would subside. Very carefully, for I know local turtles can have a vicious bite, I grasped the edges of the carapace at a point I hoped was well away from the reach of the turtle’s mouth. I extracted the creature, concerned that it may have been trapped underwater for too long, as the flood torrent had existed for almost 24 hours.
Having extracted the turtle, it was clearly almost at death’s door but, thank goodness, there were still weak signs of life. I placed the turtle onto the bridge surface, relieved to detect some breathing. Remarkably, within a few minutes, the turtle started to recover, during which time I was able to see its relatively short neck and distinctive markings, in particular a yellow streak behind the eyes extending back on each side as far as the large visible ear drum, that would enable me to make a positive identification.
The rescued creature turns out to be a Krefft’s turtle (Emydura macquarii krefftii), which occurs only in Queensland on the eastern side of the Great Dividing Range. This current scientific name identifies it as a sub-species of the Macquarie turtle, but there is sufficient belief that it warrants identification as an entirely separate species that will probably, in time, see the ‘macquarii’ dropped.
Averaging about 250mm in shell length, these attractive freshwater turtles are not large but can live for more than 15 years inhabiting flowing rivers and smaller creeks as well as swamps and lagoons. After hatching and while juvenile, the Krefft’s turtle is entirely carnivorous, feeding on small fish and crustaceans as well as carrion that may have ended up in the water. As they mature, however, they will also eat aquatic vegetation and fruits from overhanging waterside plants. Nests are built from October through to January in excavated burrows away from the water’s edge, into which up to 16 hard-shelled eggs are laid. After 7-11 weeks, depending upon temperatures, the self-sufficient hatchlings dig their way out of the nest chamber to start feeding, but are readily predated upon by opportunistic fish and snakes.
Quite clearly, my rescued turtle has survived all of life’s hazards so far and as it recovers full strength, it makes its way over the side of the safer downstream side of the bridge, ready to re-enter the flooded creek. May it continue to be so lucky for the remainder of its natural life.