I love getting a decent photo of a vertebrate, mostly because they’re so easy to identify. Usually I spend most of my time looking at flowering plants and insects, which comprise about 74% of all known macroscopic species. Vertebrates, on the other hand, make up less than 4%. Whenever I find a plant or insect I don’t know, I usually spend a considerable amount of time examining minute features and poring over texts, keys, descriptions, and drawings to get an identification. With vertebrates, it takes about five minutes looking at photos.
Case in point: This midland painted turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata, Emydidae). I noticed this little reptile basking on a log near the Beaver Marsh at Cuyahoga Valley National Park a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t know what it was, but it turns out there are only ten turtle species in Ohio. They have obvious macroscopic differences so simply looking at photos made identifying this turtle very easy.
Like most poikilothermic animals this individual was taking advantage of some late-summer sun for warmth. Soon, however, the days will grow colder and this northernmost North American turtle will overwinter under the muck at the bottom of the pond. These abundant and hardy reptiles have adaptations for cold tolerance and can survive for several years in northern climates.