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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Painted Turtles in the Arb

<eally cold outside.  Turtles think so too.  Painted Turtles spend most of the winter hibernating.  Unlike most Arb creatures (or basically any animal that needs oxygen) these turtles are able to survive without breathing for four to five months!  They can do this for a variety of reasons.  During the winter, freshwater turtles drastically reduce their metabolism by approximately ninety percent.  They get the small amount of energy they still need by metabolizing stored fat.  Unfortunately, lactic acid builds up when this process occurs in the absence of oxygen.  Eventually, this lactic acid accumulation can be fatal.

So how do they survive?  The Painted Turtle’s shell and bones come to the rescue.  The skeleton and shell release carbonate buffers that help neutralize the built-up lactic acid.  Additionally, lactic acid moves into the shell where it is stored and buffered.  So the Painted Turtles’ shells and bones literally keep them alive during the cold months.  

Some turtles are additionally able to “breathe” underwater.  All reptiles have a cloaca, which is a very versatile rear opening used for urination, defecating, egg laying, and mating.  Some turtles even use it as a lung.  If the turtle spends the winter in water containing dissolved oxygen, it can exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide through its cloaca by forcing water in and out of this opening.  Since these turtles are able to metabolize fat in aerobic conditions, they do not go through the same chemical process as the Painted Turtles.  While we have an abundance of Painted Turtles, we do not have any “bum-breathers” in the Arb.  You have to go to Australia for that.  

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