Fuzzy turtle travelin’

In June 2009, during a walk at White Rock Lake, I stood on the footbridge spanning the inlet to Heron Bay (the lagoon behind the paddle boat house).  Sweat ran down every part of my body as I stood smothered in Texas summer: oppressive heat and humidity.  I had already decided to get in the car and go home, if for no other reason than to turn on the air conditioning in the car before I melted into a puddle.

Walking across the bridge, I noticed something swimming near the surface.  It paused even as I turned to snap a few photos.  It turned out to be a red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) with algae growing on its shell.  Yet I forgot about the photos, something I do often considering the volume of pictures I take.  It wasn’t until April 2010 when I stumbled across those pictures again and posted about the fuzzy turtle.  I included this photograph:

A red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) with algae on its shell (2009_06_21_024620)

That happens to be a crop of a larger image.  Here’s the original:

A red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) with algae on its shell (2009_06_21_024620 original)

As has been the case with every photo I’ve licensed, I gave nary a thought to the image after I posted it.  Then in October 2010 I received an e-mail that said, in part,

I have seen your photos of a turtle covered with algae on the web (‘fuzzy turtle, april 15, 2010). The algal growth represents one of the algal species (Basicladia spp.) I have been working on during my PhD, which I just completed as a draft. I would like to use the image of the turtle for the introduction chapter of my PhD thesis (Leiden University, the Netherlands)…

Of course I was interested.  When contacted about licensing a photograph, anything for nonprofit, conservation, education and/or science garners my immediate interest.  And it helped to see this in the initial request: “I would send you a copy of the book once it’s printed.”  I always like to see how my work is used and I appreciate that consideration being understood, especially when it’s understood at the time the initial request is sent.

I eventually agreed to the request and sent the original unadulterated image file.  It seemed my fuzzy turtle was traveling to the Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity Naturalis.  And I never asked if it spoke Dutch before I shipped it overseas.

Only a month after originally contacting me, Christian sent a new request.  Though originally intended as the introductory image for the first chapter, she said she liked the image more than expected and wanted to use it on the book’s cover instead.  She wanted to be certain that was OK with me.  Um, let me think about that.  YES!

Then less than two months after she originally contacted me, Christian sent another e-mail, this time asking for my mailing address.  I was excited.  I couldn’t wait to see the book, to hold it in my grimy paws, to read it with that inner tickle that screamed, “Hey, dude!  Your frackin’ photo is on the cover!  Look!  Look!  Loooooook!

After enough of our ice storm double whammy melted last week and it was safe enough to walk to the mailbox, I was pleasantly surprised to find a package from the Netherlands.  And inside the package: a copy of “Phylogenetic, taxonomic and biogeographical studies in the Pithophoraceae (Cladophorales, Chlorophyta)” by Christian Böedeker.

Cover of 'Phylogenetic, taxonomic and biogeographical studies in the Pithophoraceae (Cladophorales, Chlorophyta)' by Christian Boedeker featuring a photograph of mine on the cover (HPIM0034)

That photo scarcely does the book justice (photography isn’t my strength at the moment, I assure you).  The cover has an underlying color scheme that makes it look like it’s painted on canvas, thus giving it great visual texture.

But what about the contents?  Oh, it’s a delightfully heavy bit of science that made for a wonderful read.  And when I say a heavy bit of science, I mean that in the most complimentary way.  Christian has done some fantastic work in an area that lacked serious study, and her book shows just how much this science was needed.  To wit (from the back cover):

The confused taxonomy of the Aegagropila-clade was clarified using methods of molecular phylogenetic inference, resulting in the re-instatement of the Pithophoraceae, descriptions of two new genera and several nomenclatural changes.

With ample color images, maps, tables and illustrations to complement hundreds of pages of research, I feel a great deal of pride seeing my photograph on the cover.  As science is a dear passion of mine, licensing this photo gave me satisfaction beyond measure.

I’m eternally grateful to Christian Böedeker for contacting me and letting me play a small part in her work.  I’m also thankful for her consideration in sending me a copy of the book once completed.  Of all the photos I’ve licensed to date, this one has the most meaning.

15 thoughts on “Fuzzy turtle travelin’”

  1. Congratulations are in order! Do you ever wonder, though, if the algal growth was a result of an impaired immune system in the turtle? I realize it’s on the shell and thus may not be accessible to immune cells, but that luxuriant green pelage seems a bit “wrong.” Any thoughts? I’ve never seen a turtle covered with growth anywhere near this lush.

    1. I appreciate it, Scott!

      As for the immune system question, I had a similar thought many years ago when I first saw this. I wondered if perhaps damage to the shell allowed the algal growth. But then I realized it’s way too common: most of the turtles here wind up looking like that at some point each year.

      Thankfully, the answer’s in the book: some members of Basicladia specialize in growing on turtle shells. It goes on to explain that a lot of the algae species in the Aegagropila clade grow only in narrow niches, like on freshwater bivalves or saltwater plants or intertidal snails. Each species only thrives on the host it’s adapted to. Very interesting…

        1. I’m with you, Morgan. I knew next to nothing about algae before I read the book. I wouldn’t ignore it if it presented itself, but I didn’t appreciate it for all its complexity. Christian’s work really opened my eyes about the complexity and coolness of algae (and, I might add, I got to learn about things like “heterotrichous habit” and why it’s not only physically neat but is also an evolutionary advantage for algae species that employ it).

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  3. Beautiful photo, great cover. Congratulations, Jason! The carapace looks like a miniature ecosystem. I wonder how many critters live amongst the algae.

    1. Thanks, Jain! I was rather pleased with this.

      You’re so right about the miniature ecosystem. I know ‘microhabitat’ is a real term, but this turtle’s mobile forest really gives it new meaning.

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