Wild Napa – Western Pond Turtle Lecture

This summer I had the honor of being invited to give a presentation on western pond turtles at the Napa County Library as part of the Wild Napa lecture series, a monthly event put on collaboratively by the Napa County Resource Conservation District, the Napa County Library, and Friends of the Napa River. This is a presentation I’ve given before, but this time I was surprised when I was asked in the eleventh hour whether they could record the talk to share with the public. The result is the video I’m pleased to link to below.

Fortunately for me, after two minutes and change, I fade out into a shadowy figure. Better yet, I bring out a live western pond turtle at the end of the presentation. But with a running time of an hour and fifteen minutes, I can’t blame you if you skip to the end; unless, that is, you are trapped in an elevator, or camping on a sidewalk in line for the next Apple smartphone release or American Ninja Warrior tryouts. So no worries if you don’t watch the whole thing – I think we can all agree the promise of seeing a live turtle really only works in person.

Here’s the teaser, followed by the video:

Imagine a time in California’s history when California cuisine was truly a natural, grass-roots effort. Not the vegetarian dives, nor the seasonal menus of Chez Panisse fame, but a living-off-the-land sort of lifestyle: succulent frog legs, a seabird-egg custard, or a piping-hot bowl of terrapin soup. It’s true; at the turn of the twentieth century, the west coast’s lone native turtle – the western pond turtle (or terrapin as it was once known) – once featured prominently on menus throughout San Francisco for soups and stews.

Join wildlife biologist Matthew Bettelheim to explore the history and natural history of the western pond turtle. This trip through time will roughly follow the discovery and description of the western pond turtle by first Russian explorers and later European naturalists in the 1800s, then Native American accounts of collecting the turtle for sustenance and ceremonial purposes, and next the extensive terrapin harvest at the turn of the twentieth century centered around the San Francisco market. In addition to the colorful stories that surround the rich and as yet untold history of San Francisco’s terrapin trade, we will also examine the western pond turtle’s present struggle to persist in what little remains of its former west coast range and review the growing body of natural history data and contemporary research before peering into the future of turtle conservation.

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