2008-05-17 / Front Page

SOFTSHELL TURTLE SAID NOT TO LIVE HERE: TELL THIS ONE THAT

A sighting last week confirmed that the rare eastern spiny softshell turtle that has been known to be living in the Stevenson Dam reservoir is still alive and well.

For a dam so rich in aquatic diversity, it's rare for one turtle to get so much attention. But this isn't your average turtle.

Before this peculiar looking turtle was spotted at the dam eight years ago by outdoor photographer Randy Flement, no others had ever been reported this far east in Pennsylvania.

The eastern spiny softshell is a common site in counties west, particularly in deep, slow-moving waters along the Allegheny River as it meanders southwest toward Ohio.

Herpetologists believe that the one living in the reservoir at Sinnemahoning State Park is the first recorded species of its kind in either Potter or Cameron counties.

"They're not supposed to be here," said an excited Lisa Bainey, director of Sinnemahoning State Park. "We've been very worried about her. We haven't seen her in quite a while."

Bainey said they believe the spiny softshell living at the park is a female because of its size: females of this species are much larger than males and this turtle is big, perhaps 17 inches across the back.

The large female is the only one that's been spotted and reported at the dam. Park officials are unsure how it got there, but they are suspicious that it may have been brought here from a western county and released.

The timing of Tuesday's sighting couldn't have been much better, Bainey said.

This weekend, a handful of scientists will explore the park researching reptiles and amphibians, particularly the hellbender (photo below). Researchers are interested to see if the odd creature, the state's largest salamander, is living and breeding on the First Fork of the Sinnemahoning River. It is known to do quite well in the Driftwood Branch of the Sinnemahoning, into which the First Fork dumps just 10 miles below the park.

Joe Wilson, an ecological consultant from Julian, will lead the research. We were unable to reach him before presstime.

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