Nature Center Preschool Students Raise Red-Bellied Cooters with MassWildlife

Posted: Jun. 22, 2023

This spring, staff, and volunteers from the South Shore YMCA Natural Science Center joined 18 other organizations from across the state and MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program in releasing young Northern red-bellied cooters into the wild. The Science Center staff raised six turtles from September to May, monitoring the turtles’ general health and growth as well as water and air temperatures on a daily basis while feeding the hatchlings increasing amounts of lettuce as they prepared for their big day.

On May 18, MassWildlife handled the release, sending 114 cooters off to their new lives in three ponds in southeastern Massachusetts. The release was the culminating event of this year’s headstart program, through which conservation facilities like the South Shore Natural Science Center take in hatchlings and feed them until they grow to several times the size they would be in the wild after nine months. Once released, the larger-than-usual youngsters have a better chance at survival than their counterparts already in the wild.

“There were some interesting days this winter,” said John Galluzzo, South Shore YMCA Grant Writer, and a member of the team. “On one day in particular we were expecting a power outage and had to move the entire operation – 40-gallon tank and all – to a spot that ensured there would be no interruption to their filters and heat and light sources.” Thanks to the teamwork of staff, volunteers, and even a local Boy Scout Troop that earned their Reptiles & Amphibians Merit Badge in the process, the cooters not only survived the storm but the year in great readiness for release.

One group, the Box Turtle class of the South Shore YMCA Nature Center Preschool, played a major role, feeding the cooters every Thursday. “We loved having them here,” said Jessica Hagen, Preschool Director. “The students actually asked their teachers, Jill and Kiki, if they could feed them once. Then, it became a weekly commitment that helped teach them responsible pet ownership.” One front desk staff member, Michelle Gilmore, fed the turtles twice per week and joined Galluzzo on the journey to MassWildlife headquarters in Westborough in May for their final health check prior to release.

When the six cooters arrived at the South Shore Natural Science Center in September, they averaged 30 millimeters in carapace (shell) length and 9 grams in weight. By May, they stretched to 117.83 millimeters and 285.33 grams. The statewide program averages were 102.68 millimeters and 201.5 grams.

Since 1984, MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program has raised and released approximately 5000 Northern red-bellied cooters, estimating that there are now 3000 in ponds in Norfolk, Bristol, and Plymouth Counties. Northern red-bellied cooters are listed as endangered by both Massachusetts and the federal government. Thanks to the success of this project, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering downlisting the Northern red-bellied cooter from Endangered to Threatened, which, if it occurs, would be the first time a freshwater turtle has been so treated. This fall, the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program will begin its 40th year of head-starting Northern red-bellied cooters.

“This project strikes directly at the heart of the Science Center’s mission to educate environmentally-sensitive and conservation-minded youths who will become our future leaders,” said Galluzzo. “Programs like this one are why the Science Center was founded 60 years ago. For our team, it was a privilege to take part in this year’s project.


About the South Shore YMCA

The South Shore YMCA is a leading charitable organization dedicated to strengthening community through programs that promote healthy spirit, mind, and body. Serving the communities of Quincy, Randolph, Holbrook, Weymouth, Braintree, Milton, Hingham, Hull, Cohasset, Scituate, Norwell, Hanover and beyond, the South Shore Y provides the opportunity to grow, learn, and thrive through its services and programs. Financial Assistance is a Y community benefit available to all families in need, applicable to all Y programs and services. To learn more about the South Shore YMCA, visit The South Shore YMCA. The Better You Belongs Here.