In this irregular series “If I could live in the Pleistocene…,” I imagine what my life would be like, if I could travel back in time to ~39,000 BP and live in the geographical area later to be known as central Georgia but with some selected modern conveniences I brought with me. I constructed an adobe home that is sort of like a mini-castle with a watchtower and a high stone fence surrounding a farm where I raise and grow most of my own food. I generate my own electricity and even have wires going through the time tunnel so I can communicate with the modern world. I enjoy an idyllic life of farming, hunting, and fishing in a pristine wilderness that exists before man ever colonized the region. I located my home about a mile north of the Broad River for ready access to fish and aquatic animals. On previous segments of this series I’ve discussed fish traps and turkey traps. Today, I’ll show how I catch turtles and discuss the species usually found in my traps.
My last adventure (https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2012/11/02/if-i-could-live-in-the-pleistocene-part-x-turning-a-bear-into-soap/) in November was the dilemma I faced when I ran out of soap and my concubines wouldn’t sleep with me until I made a new supply. I ended up having to kill a big old bear in order to get enough animal fat to make soap. We spent the winter eating hamburgers made out of a blend of bear meat and venison. Water levels were too high for fish and turtle trapping, but spring is here and the river level dropped. We’re ready for a change in our diet. The fish trap provides more food than we can eat, but we want something different. Fortunately, catching turtles is just as easy as catching fish. I simply constructed a small cage made out of chicken wire and attached 2 styrofoam floats to it. The cage has no top. Instead, a piece of wood is placed on 1 side and suspended over the cage. A spring holds the piece of wood over the top. When a turtle crawls on the wood over the cage, its weight causes the wood to teeter, and the turtle falls into the cage. The spring snaps the wood back in place, ready for the next turtle.
Illustration of a turtle trap. The turtle crawls on the suspended wood to sun itself. The wood acts like a teeter-totter and drops the turtle into the trap. A spring snaps the wood back into place. I place my trap in a shallow part of the river and anchor it down.
The most common kind of turtle found in my trap is the river cooter (Pseudemys concinna). It’s also known as the chicken cooter because it affords about as much meat as a chicken. It was a common source of protein for slaves on southern plantations before the Civil War. Chicken cooters are omnivorous but mainly feed upon aquatic vegetation. During winter they burrow into mud at the bottom of a water course and literally breathe through their ass–their cloaca can absorb oxygen from the water. In real life chicken cooters are still abundant, especially in suburban ponds where humans have forgotten they are good to eat.
River or chicken cooter.
I also catch Florida red-bellied turtles (Pseudemys nelsoni). Florida red-bellied turtles have an interesting distribution history. Today, this species is restricted to Florida and extreme southeastern Georgia. (An introduced population thrives on the San Marcos, River in Texas.) However, fossils of this species were found at the Ladds site in Bartow County, Georgia about an hour north of Atlanta. The Ladds site likely represents the Sangamonian Interglacial interval. Florida red-bellied turtles were once more widespread through the south. Moreover, there are also 2 geographically distinct but closely related species of red-bellied turtles–P. rubriventis of the mid-Atlantic states and P. alabamensis of southern Alabama and Mississippi. Red-bellied turtles prefer ponds and still waters rather than rivers. This habitat preference may explain why there are no red-bellied turtles living within a range they used to inhabit. Red-bellied turtles must have difficulty dispersing following environmental changes that result from climate perturbations. Arid climate during the Last Glacial Maximum reduced available aquatic habitat, and red-bellied turtles have since failed to reoccupy much of their former range.
Florida red-bellied turtle.
Range map of Florida red-bellied turtle. Before the LGM they had a broader range across the south. They have so far failed to recolonize their former range since the Ice Age.
Soft-shelled turtles (Apalone spinifera) fall into my trap. This large predatory species is just as aggressive as a snapping turtle, and they have a longer neck, so I have to be careful when handling them. They feed upon fish, frogs, and ducks. They are surprisingly fast. In real life I once saw a soft-shelled turtle running down a hillside, and it demonstrated blazing speed–I think faster than a rabbit. So much for the tortoise and the hare myth.
Soft-shelled turtle. They grow to 40 pounds.
Snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina) weigh up to 35 pounds, and when I catch 1 of these, I have extra meat for my freezer.
Snapping turtle feeding on a bream.
Turtle meat tastes like lobster. In real life I found turtle meat for sale at a Kroger supermarket seafood department. It was imported from New Zealand. (Americans can’t even raise their own turtles?) I made a delicious catfish and turtle stew.
Turtle and catfish stew. Has potatoes to make it substantial. Seasoned with chili powder, bacon, and onion. Delicious.
I’m not going to go into all the gruesome details of killing and butchering the turtles I caught. I put some into a tank to be fed a special clean diet until we’re ready to eat them, but I did kill and clean a medium-sized snapper. It’s important to wash hands when handling turtles because they carry salmonella just like chickens. Some turtles provide a bonus–unlaid eggs. Turtle eggs are good for cooking and make for rich cookies and cakes, but they have an unusual property. The whites of turtle eggs never get hard, no matter how long they are boiled. The white remains liquid around the hard yolk.
While my turtle stew is slow-cooking on the stove, I decided to get high and listen to music before supper. I carried a big stein of home-made beer (made with barley and hops I grew) and a joint of my marijuana (which I also grew on my Pleistocene farm) to the top of my 5-story castle watchtower, constructed in the shape of a lighthouse, where I can observe the wilderness surrounding my home. This is my favorite kind of party: listening to music undisturbed by anybody–even my concubines leave me alone and stay downstairs. I flip on the tunes, enjoy the scenery, and get wasted. If I went back in time, I’d have to bring rock and roll music with me. Here’s my Pleistocene playlist. (Realize this: I play these songs in exact order while I keep getting more and more wasted.)
“Oh Carol” — Chuck Berry showing Keith Richards how to play the song.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEA6gzAAPfc
“Can’t you hear me knocking”–Rolling Stones
“It’s only Rock and Roll”–Rolling Stones
“Got to get you into my life”–Beatles
“I am the Walrus”–Beatles
“You gotta fight for your right to Party”–Beastie Boys
“Brain Stew”–Green Day
“Delivering the Goods”–Judas Priest
“Devil’s Child”–Judas Priest
“Living after Midnight”–Judas Priest
“Falling in Love”–Scorpions
“Loving you Sunday Morning”–Scorpions
“Hot for Teacher”–Van Halen
“Heavy Metal”–Sammy Hagar
“Flying High Again”–Ozzy Osbourne
“No More Tears”–Ozzy Osbourne
“Sweet Leaf”–Black Sabbath
“Fairies Wear Boots”–Black Sabbath
“Still Raining, Still Dreaming”–Jimi Hendrix
“Ezy Ryder”–Jimi Hendrix
“How Many More Times”–Led Zeppelin
“The Lemon Song”–Led Zeppelin
“Rock and Roll”–Led Zeppelin
“Over the Hills and Far Away”–Led Zeppelin
“Custard Pie”–Led Zeppelin
“For your Life”–Led Zeppelin
“I Can’t Quit You”–Dred Zeppelin
“Big Love”–Robert Plant
“Social Disease”–Elton John
“Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future”–Elton John
“Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”–Elton John
“Spanish Flea”–Herb Albert
“Rise” –Herb Albert
“Can’t Keep My Eyes off of You”–Frankie Valli
Sex cures hangovers. Excessive alcohol consumption causes an imbalance of dopamine levels in the brain. Having sex helps restore dopamine levels. My concubines, the Jenna Shea and September Carrino lookalikes, are going to help restore my dopamine levels following my Pleistocene beer and pot party.
Tags: Apalone spinifera, Chelydra serpentina, chicken cooters, Ladds, Pleistocene playlist, Pseudemys concinna, Psuedemys nelsoni, red-bellied turtles, Sex restores dopamine levels in brain following heavy alcohol consumption, snapping turtles, soft-shelled turtles