Local couple’s longtime interest in turtles finds studies rewarding
A local couple who have spent three decades working with snapping turtles recently took one of the state's largest turtles to live in safety in the Emporia Zoo.
Junior and Marie Black were hoping that this turtle, which was found in June by Harold Turner north of Lawrence, would top the state record turtle they reported in 1993. So, they took it to biologist Joe Collins at the University of Kansas. But this turtle measured only 15.25 inches in length, one-fourth of an inch less than the state record. Even though at 29 pounds, this summer's turtle find was heavier than their state record, the length is what determines the standing.
The state record, Black said, was found in the road about a mile north of Interstate 70 in Leavenworth County. That turtle weighed 25 pounds and was 15.5 inches long.
The Blacks, who often dine on fried chunks of turtle meat, which they say tastes like "Chicken McNuggets," passed up the opportunity to cook the large turtles.
Junior Black said that's because the turtle had lived such a long life and he wanted it to continue.
He estimated that the large turtles were between 45 and 50 years old.
Because of their interest in turtles, neighbors and friends have learned to call upon the Blacks when they find large turtles.
Once, when Black was cleaning a female turtle for cooking, he found about 70 eggs. So Junior and Marie decided to bury the eggs as turtles do, and let them hatch to give their grandchildren a lesson on biology.
The eggs measured about an inch in diameter, Black said.
"Their little nose comes out first," Black said. "They keep pushing with their feet. When they first come out they'll get high centered. And the next day they'll head for water."
The turtles, he said, will walk toward the nearest body of water, even if it's far away.
Every so often, the Blacks measured the turtles' progress, preserving a young turtle in formaldehyde so the children could see the growth.
When he released the turtles in a pond, they were about the size of a silver dollar.
"Four years later they weighed a pound and a half," Black said.
Black, who has studied turtles' diets, says they dine on moss, frogs, fish and small birds. Black said even after studying turtles for all these years, they still remind him of prehistoric creatures.
"It's amazing that they have survived so long when there are so many things that have become extinct," Black said. "They sure look prehistoric."
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