After a walk at Ella Bay I stopped near a creek on the Ella Bay Road to fish watch and relax before leaving for home.
Whilst looking into a creek on the western side of the Ella Bay Road I spotted something unusual and decided to have a closer look.
I gently lifted up the unusual object and from above it looked like an algae covered rock not much bigger than a 20 cent piece.
From the side of course the game was up! I saw a shy turtle head looking at me!
I quickly took some photos and got a nice shot of his (or her) plastron for identification purposes.
I returned this little gem to its home in the creek quick smart and it popped its head out and had a look at me as I left it to its turtle business.
Looking on the eastern side of the road I saw a school of Spotted scats Scatophagus argus swimming around on the surface and a larger jungle perch Kuhlia rupestris swimming underneath them.
Scats are pretty little fish, quite happy in freshwater when they are juveniles and moving into saltwater as they mature. Their scientific name Scatophagus translates to ‘excrement eater’ so you can guess they aren’t fussy about what they eat! Scats have venomous spines and are capable of giving a nasty little wound if handled so are best left alone!
A few moments later while taking another fish photo I captured a shot of a Mangrove Jack Lutjanus argentimaculatus with its distinctive juvenile stripes and red fins swimming under the scats.
Mangrove jacks spend their juvenile years in coastal rivers and streams and once they get to a couple of kilograms in weight they will leave for the ocean and live in a reef somewhere. They can grow to about 16 kilograms and are a highly prized eating fish. This Mangrove jack certainly has a humble start to its life in a little stream at Ella Bay. This definitely helps to illustrate the importance in the big picture of these small streams along the Ella Bay Road.
I’m starting to rattle on about fish too much here considering this is a turtle story so If you want to read about Ella Bay’s fish its better you go and check out the story on the ‘TALE field trip to Ella Bay’.
Ok back to the turtles! Just before leaving the creek I saw another small turtle swimming around and got a quick photo before it darted off into the leaf litter.
Kieran Aland from the Queensland Museum confirmed the turtle was a Saw-shelled turtle Elseya latisternum AKA Wollumbinia latisternum. He mentioned that they are very good at finding their way round North Queensland’s small rainforest creeks and can make their way overland into areas even eels have difficulty getting to! Kieran is a walking encyclopaedia of herpetological knowledge and I am lucky to have his support and assistance! Thanks Kieran!
The Saw-shelled turtle has serrations at the rear of its shell which can be seen in the above photos. They could be seen even more clearly of this little bloke didn’t have so much algae on his shell! They eat all sorts of foods like rainforest fruit, crustaceans, fish, frogs and insects. They can grow to about 28cm long (carapace length) so this little fella was just a baby!
People often get excited about taking these little ‘penny’ turtles home as pets and I just want to say it’s not the best idea to remove them from the wild. Without even considering the legal implications, little penny turtles grow up into big turtles and require a lot of care (tank cleaning etc) they can bite too. A good friend of mine also tells some pretty good horror stories about their ability to harbour salmonella! All this aside they are a lot nicer to watch in a creek than in a tank!
I don’t think Ella Bay’s rainforest turtles will be too happy if the Ella Bay Road is widened and thousands of vehicles start using it daily as per the Ella Bay Pty Ltd development applications. Apart from freshwater turtles being crushed on the roads during their wet season overland excursions I am sure pollution (oil etc) from the road running off into these creeks will in no way improve the turtle’s habitat!
Let’s hope this little turtle lives a long and happy life without a highway on its doorstep.