Barry McNamara  |   Published November 08, 2015

Sid the Turtle

22-year biology department resident moves to new off-campus space
There’s a new turtle in town at Hamilton Pond.
  After 22 years, Sid the Turtle has moved out of his comfy Monmouth College confines – an aquarium in the biology department – and is living in the wild.   Biology professors Ken Cramer and Tim Tibbetts were present for Sid’s release into the college’s research pond, which sits about a block north of campus. Sid’s “escape” went much better than the time she tried to leave her tank in the college’s old science building. She wound up on the floor in a little pool of blood with a crack in her shell but, after some quick repairs with epoxy, “She was fine,” said Cramer.   That’s right – Sid is a she. Her gender was initially mistaken, but by the time that was discerned, her name had stuck. Cramer said the students then had fun with it, purposely naming one of Sid’s tank mates Nancy, even though they knew it was a male turtle.   Painted turtles like Sid have a life span similar to humans – 70 to 80 years, according to Cramer . Sid came to Monmouth in the mid-1990s when she was in her late teens, as near as Cramer could figure at the time.   “We got Sid from a biological supply company,” he said. “Our students were doing some genetic work with turtles, and they needed live turtles from which to draw blood. It was winter, though, and the turtles in Hamilton Pond were all down.”   Cramer said painted turtles burrow into the mud and slow their metabolism drastically to essentially “hibernate” for up to five months.   During the past two decades, “hand-me-down” turtles such as Nancy have joined Sid in the tank, but Sid was the one who persisted, said Cramer.   “When we set Sid out by the pond, she had her head in her shell, but she eventually popped it out and started looking around,” he said. “I remember trying to put my mind into the mind of a turtle and imagine what she was experiencing then, feeling grass for the first time” and wondering what to do next. “We had her pointed toward the pond, and that’s where she eventually went.”   When Sid’s new Hamilton Pond friends make their reappearance next March or April, Cramer is hoping Sid will be among them.   “We marked her, as we do with the other turtles we find in the pond,” he said. “She has a natural mark, but we added another, just to be sure. We’ll take an ecology class to the pond this spring, and we’ll set out some traps baited with chicken livers. So we might see Sid again. We hope we do. That will mean releasing her into the wild was the right fit.”
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