March 24, 2020
Many unique animals of all shapes and sizes live within the wetland ecosystem at Killens Pond State Park. We asked one of the park naturalists to tell us a little bit about the animals who call this 66-acre millpond home. On your next hiking, biking, or paddling adventure, keep an eye out for these animals!
The Eastern Musk Turtle is a small species of freshwater turtle that gets its name from the musky odor produced by its scent glands. They are a small species of freshwater turtle, ranging from 2 to 4.5 inches. They are closely related to snapping turtles and have similar hunting behavior, where they sit and wait for prey to come to them. Usually camouflaged by mud and debris, eastern musk turtles use small protrusions (barbels) under their chin to mimic small food in order to lure prey in. They are generalist feeders, and will eat any kind of aquatic animals and plants as well as carrion. These turtles often climb tree limbs and can be found basking in the sun more than 7 feet above water!
The North American River Otter is the largest member of the weasel family. They can be found throughout the Delmarva area and much of the United States wherever there is a permanent body of water. Despite the name, river otters do not only live around rivers. They are also found in ponds, wetlands, coast shorelines, or other areas with clean water. However, river otters are sensitive to pollution. River otters are carnivorous, and eat fish, frogs, crayfish, and other aquatic invertebrates. They are excellent swimmers and can hold their breath for about 8 minutes underwater! For comparison, the average human can only hold their breath for about 1 minute. River otters are a playful and intelligent species. They were hunted heavily in the 1700 and 1800s for their thick, waterproof fur, but today hunting and trapping regulations exist to help maintain their population.
This non-venomous snake is found all throughout the eastern United States. It is the most commonly seen snake here in the Delmarva peninsula and is often found in fields, woodlands and farmlands. They are a generalist species meaning they will eat pretty much any type of prey, including birds, eggs, small rodents, fish, frogs, and other snakes. They are excellent climbers and are often seen in treetops or rooftops looking for food. They are the longest native snake species in our area, reaching lengths up to 7ft long. These snakes can live 10 to 15 years! This eastern ratsnake lives in the nature center at Killens Pond State Park.
American Beavers (Castor canadensis) are the largest rodents in North America! A beaver’s teeth are orange due to their protective coating and grow continuously throughout its lifetime. Beavers eat tree bark and other tough plant material, and their teeth are ideal for cutting wood and grinding their food to a pulp to extract as many nutrients as possible.
The Northern Red-bellied Cooter’s name comes from its red colored “belly” or plastron. This aquatic turtle is found in fresh water bodies throughout Delmarva, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Massachusetts. They are the most commonly seen turtle in this region, often basking on downed trees, rocks and any other structures they can climb on. Red-bellied cooters are the largest recorded basking turtle in Delmarva with an average length of 10 to 12 inches ( the largest ever recorded was 15 inches!). They will eat pretty much anything from vegetation to insects and fish. These turtles can live 40 to 50 years.
Raccoons are commonly found throughout the United States – even Alaska! They are nocturnal mammals, meaning they are primarily active at night. Raccoons are opportunistic omnivores, so they ear whatever food they can find including berries, nuts, grains, vegetables, insects, birds, fish, snakes, worms, and more! Raccoons have adapted well to human development, but more naturally hunt around water. Raccoons have very sensitive hands, which are become even more sensitive in water. For this reason, raccoons will often put their food in water before eating it. When they wet and rub an object, the raccoon is “seeing” the object, and it is believed that water increases a raccoon’s tactile ability. Raccoon’s hands are very dexterous and movable like our own, which allows them to grasp their food and climb. Raccoons are believed to be most closely related to bears and dogs, and they can live for about 3-5 years in the wild.
The Delmarva wetlands are home to both red and gray foxes. Gray foxes are native to Delaware, but red foxes were introduced to the area and more common to see. Both foxes get their name from their dominant fur color, red or gray, however, sometimes it can still be hard to tell the two apart. The best way to tell the gray and red fox apart is by the color of the end of the tail. The end of a red fox’s tail is white while the end of a gray fox’s tail is black. Red and gray foxes also prefer different habitats. Gray foxes are found in the middle of large forests while red foxes prefer woodland edges and brush. Even though coloration and habitat vary, the two types of foxes do have similarities. They are both omnivores eating small rodents, insects, invertebrates, and plants. Both types also tend to be solitary and territorial.
Spotted turtles get their name from the yellow spots on their otherwise black body and shell. The number and location of spots vary from between each turtle, much like our fingerprints. However, most turtles hatch with a spot on each section of their shell and get more spots as they grow older. Spotted turtles live in shallow wetlands such as swamps, bogs, marshes, and wet meadows. The population of spotted turtles in the Delmarva wetlands and throughout their range in the Eastern United States has diminished over the years due to water pollution and habitat destruction. Seeing spotted turtles in the wild in Delaware is rare. In a clean environment, they can live for over 50 years.