SHEPHERDSTOWN – The next faculty research forum will delve into the secret world of the Painted Turtle. Dr. John Steffen, Assistant Professor of Biology, will present âThe Mysteries of the Spots and Colors of Painted Turtlesâ Friday at 3:15 pm in the auditorium of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education.
During the event, which is free and open to the public, Steffen will present research he is conducting with Shepherd undergraduates examining how painted turtles change color in response to the availability of carotenoids, if the turtles are actively seeking food with carotenoids or not, and whether or not carotenoid-based scratches and spots may work to indicate aspects of turtle health. Carotenoids are pigments in the plants that turtles eat.
Steffen has said so far that seven students have officially worked with him on this research at Shepherd, and many others have occasionally helped him unofficially. His presentation will include preliminary results that study the mating behavior of painted turtles.
Yellow, orange and red skin or feather colors are common in many animals, and these colors are often generated by carotenoid pigments. The variation in the color of an individual turtle indicates the relative success in foraging for carotenoids and other aspects of physiological state.
âPainted turtles are attractive reptiles and prized pets because of their yellow, orange and red dot and stripe colors,â Steffen said. “Painted turtles, however, are very secretive and little is known about their breeding behavior and mating system. The use of colors is a trait involved in mate choice or male rivalry, so indirect means should be used to infer how these colors are used by individual turtles.
Steffen said the most surprising findings from his research are that painted turtles have cohesive personalities, are sometimes cranky, and can bite hard. He hopes those who attend his presentation will come away with the understanding that despite everything we know about them, we can still learn a lot more about Painted Turtles.
âThey should replace Bigfoot as a real cryptozoology study animal,â he joked.
Steffen is an organism biologist and herpetologist, or reptile and amphibian biologist, who studies how skin and feather colors are used by animals to communicate information to other animals in the environment. He got his doctorate. at Auburn University where he studied ethology and behavioral ecology. His previous research focused on the use of carotenoid-colored skin flaps folded under the throat in species-rich tropical and subtropical Anolis lizards.