Qu’est Que C’est Nature: Let the Good Times Roll!

Rolly-Polly-300x300 Qu’est Que C’est Nature: Let the Good Times Roll!

Rolly Polly – A Child’s First Wild Pet

For any child that plays outdoors, the Rolly Polly is surely on their list of first pets. How could you not say “cool” when these creatures go from running across your arm to rolling into a ball. The ball posture gives them the name Pill Bug, but Doodle Bug or Potato Bug are also names used for what is a cosmopolitan species – found throughout the world. Originally from the Mediterranean, this and other soil-dwelling creatures arrived in foreign shores through European migration. Their scientific name, Armadillidium vulgare, refers to their similarity to armadillos (first name or genus) that roll into a ball and a Latin word for “common” (species name).

So, let’s start with what these creatures are not – they are not insects. By definition, insects have six legs and three body parts (a head, thorax, and abdomen). Rolly Pollies are isopods (meaning same size legs), a group of crustaceans. As with all crustaceans, they have a fused front end, called the cephalothorax (short head with most of the body being the thorax), to which the seven pairs of legs are attached, and a short abdomen.

As for rolling into a ball, this is a defense mechanism for this group of woodlice that protects their underside from predators, but also from drying out. Like all crustaceans, they need a certain amount of moisture to keep their gills/lungs moist. This explains why pollies  are most often seen under logs and pots where there is more moisture. Although not as common as rolly pollies, we do have other species of woodlice in the south that cannot roll into a ball. These species are usually lighter in color and flatter than pollies.

I have enjoyed watching my kids and now grandkids go on “Polly Hunts” – rolling over logs and pots in the yard – but being careful to put the logs and pots back in place once we “find” our prices. One of my grandsons is nicknamed “Polly Man” for this very reason. Whether kept in a bug box, a cup, or just on your arm, they can supply lots of fun and a teaching moment about nature.

But, just because you can, they are not to be stuffed into ears and noses! As one of my nephews learned as a small child, a dozen or so pollies, once stuffed into an ear, start to hurt, right David?

So, take a child on a Rolly Polly hunt today – and regain a part of your own childhood.

Hope to see you in our great outdoors!!!

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Qu’est Que C’est: Picking up Pawpaws?

IMG_3965-300x225 Qu'est Que C'est: Picking up Pawpaws?

Picking Up Pawpaws & Eat Em!

In my world there are two kinds of pawpaws – the loveable grandfather that goes by that name (me included) and the ones you eat!  And yes, we have both in South Mississippi. As Andrew Moore writes in his book entitled Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit, this small native tree is a member of a more tropical family of plants that produce fleshy, sweet-tasting fruit. In most of the eastern U.S., the larger pawpaw, Asimina triloba, is common in wet bottomland forests. For the gulf coast, the smaller shrub-sized species known as Dwarf Pawpaw, Asimina parviflora, grows in well-drained woodlands. Pawpaw’s large leaves give these plants a tropical look and once you spot them, are easily seen again.


As with many native plants, pawpaw fell out of our consciousness as we have spent far less time roaming woodlands and foraging for things to eat. Air conditioning has become our excuse, and some say ruin, for not venturing outdoors. As for Dwarf Pawpaw, you can witness this earliest of blooming plants in late-February to early March. The small, brown, leathery flowers emerge before the larger leaves. Once pollinated by small flies and beetles (yes beetles do pollinate many plants), small, greenish-yellow “bananas” appear, in clusters of 2-4 fruit, growing to 2-3 inches in size. Rock hard until right before they ripen, the fruit hang on until mid-July to early August, but be diligent in checking for ripeness, as they can go from hard to ripe overnight.

For our smaller coastal Pawpaw, they are best enjoyed by cutting open the greenish skin and sucking the sweet, yellow flesh from the large brown seeds. Small amounts of flesh can also be scraped from the inside of the skin and used to flavor homemade ice cream or anything else you care to try. Pawpaw has a banana-like flavor and texture.

Apart from humans and other mammals that eat the fruit, this shrub is the host plant for the Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly. This small, black and white-striped beauty emerges in late spring from a small, squatty, striped caterpillar that eats by night. Look for them under dead leaves on the ground at the base of the plant during the day and munching on leaves after dark. So whether you have ever heard the lyrics “Picking up pawpaws and putting em in your basket”, or not, look for these attractive shrubs next time you venture out of the air conditioning.

Hope to see you in our great outdoors!!!

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Qu’est Que C’est Nature: Banana Spider

Nephila-Female-July-25-2018-e1532702782508 Qu’est Que C’est Nature: Banana Spider

Qu’est Que C’est Nature is the name of a regular series of short notes about commonly seen plants and animals that people encounter but may know little about, and authored by locally known naturalist, Mark W. LaSalle. The name of the series is a nod to Mark’s Cajun heritage: the phrase meaning “What is that?” Qu’est Que C’est Nature celebrates the simple natural wonders around us and hopefully encourages us all to take the time to enjoy our rich natural heritage.

Banana Spider Time of Year, Oh Nooooo!!!

For those of us that love the great outdoors, we know what to expect this time of the year – big, sticky spider webs everywhere you turn, with a Banana Spider hanging smack in the middle. Nephila clavipes is more properly known as the Golden Silk Spider, and although the females of this species are one of the largest of our North American web spinning spiders, and a bit scary, they are really push overs when you get to know them. So here are few myths and fun facts about this maligned denizen of our woodlands.

No, Banana Spiders did not come in on banana boats: they are true native species of the eastern U.S. and a large portion of South America. Its common name is more likely a reflection of the long, yellow abdomen that helps this spider stand out.

Yes, Banana Spiders can bite, as all spiders can, but only if provoked. You would bite too if you were squished between your web and an “arm-waving frantic human, screaming at the top of their lungs.” At worst their bites cause minor discomfort, and perhaps some reaction to the venom that the spider may inject, but not serious injury.

No, spiders do not want to bite us, including those whose venom is harmful to humans.  Despite your worst fears, spiders are not waiting for the chance to jump on you and bite you in the face. And yet, arachnophobia is serious for many people. For those of you that fear spiders, keep the “they don’t want to bite you” in the back of your minds, and hopefully it will help.

Nephila-Female-July-25-2018-e1532702782508 Qu’est Que C’est Nature: Banana Spider

And where are the male Banana Spiders? They are a fraction of the size of females, all brown in color, and lurking on the edges of the female’s web. Each web may have multiple males hoping to mate with the resident female.

And what of the “golden silk?” Its function is not clearly understood, but the color of the web, along with the “messy” system of random strands of silk that are spun in front and back of the web are believed to help larger animals like birds “see” and avoid the web before they hit and damage it.

For those brave enough to take a closer look, there are any number of smaller spiders of several shapes and sizes that share the web with Banana Spiders. But that is for another installment of “Qu’est Que C’est.”

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Who are the Pascagoula Paradise Paddlers?

Surrounded by a couple of Pascagoula locals, Kristi Ducote and Eric Richards along with some Hurricane Shrimp Tacos from Brady’s, I found myself enchanted by the stories and opportunities a SaltLife person is looking for.  Pascagoula Paradise Paddlers (PPP) consists of a core group of about 7 members give or take a few. It all started a little over 6 years ago with the Gulf Coast Summerfest. GCS needed a kayak event or two and Paradise Paddlers was born when a few enthusiasts found each other at the Choctaw Marina launch and voila!  They all said, “Let’s do this again!” Since then they have been meeting nearly every month to explore another blueway beauty in Jackson County. Eric Richards, a founding member, says, “it allows newcomers to the sport to meet other enthusiasts, but also shows the great paradise we have here… all the attributes of our natural resources.” 

When I asked what some of the “standout” virtues and ventures are, he replied, “…camaraderie and the Cumbest Bayou Fish Fry Paddle” (my personal favorite).  Each Fall, one of the paddles is along the beautiful banks of Cumbest Bayou. Once the group arrives at an old Indian shell midden island, fresh speckled trout from the bayou are fried up and served with plenty of sides and snacks, by Fletcher Songe and Charlie McVea (more PPP founding members). All of the ventures are very family friendly and safety is always a number one priority. Most all floats utilize the services of local marine law enforcement escorts and/or a lead/follow safety kayaker. There are: Blood Moon, Super Moon, Sunset/Moon-rise, Fall/Spring, Day/Night, and event paddles year round.  You’ll enjoy some of the night paddles which employ some “MacGyver-like” decorated boats with lights and more. I asked Eric which venture is the most scenic. He replied, “the Franklin Creek paddle out of Presley’s Outing… the trees and canopy are incredible in both summer and winter… they have very different looks with and without foliage.”

The City of Pascagoula’s outdoor recreation specialist and PPP member, Kristi Ducote, shares about some of the partnering events that bring the Paradise Paddlers and city recreation together.  On June 23rd, the rescheduled Pascagoula Run Paddle Battle, which stretches 12.5 miles from Little River Marina to Lighthouse Park, will bring in some serious kayak talent from across the south; but it’s not a race for all.  For some, it’s a great chance to see a long stretch of bayou and river blueway along the Pascagoula River delta. “Even if you’re not up to the 12.5 mile paddle, we have two pullout points downstream for those who want less of a challenge,” said Ducote.  Online registration will last through Thursday, June 22nd, but you can still attend and register at the meetup on Friday June 23rd at Brady’s Steak and Seafood, 3801 Magnolia St. from 5:00-8:00PM. Go to the City of Pascagoula link (https://cityofpascagoula.com/467/Pascagoula-Run-Paddle-Battle) for more info on this event and others like the June 29th PaddlePalooza from River Park to Huck’s Cove, which is a Sunset/Moonrise adventure.  Also, Nelson Outdoors of Pascagoula is always happy to provide you with a rental, complete with all safety gear. And I’ll bet they’ll hook you up with your own rig, if you’re in the market!

So, if you are a beginner, an explorer, enthusiast, or just plain ole Salty Dog; come enjoy the paradise Jackson County has to offer.  You’ll meet some really cool folks and see some breathtaking beauty. The PPP doesn’t have an official website, but if you go the Mississippi Kayaking Meetup Group page, you can stay tuned for upcoming adventures: (https://www.meetup.com/Mississippi-Kayak-Meetup-Group/).  Also, the City of Pascagoula updates their recreation website with the latest on kayaking events in the area: (https://cityofpascagoula.com/327/Outdoor-Recreation)

Get SALTY Y’all!

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Fox Squirrels Entertain Golfers at Whispering Pines

Picture2-copy Fox Squirrels Entertain Golfers at Whispering Pines

Click the image above to view larger.

Whispering Pines Golf Course has some visitors that like the course so much, they’re calling it home—and they don’t even golf!
Fox Squirrels have moved in, and they’re welcome to stay, according to Facilities Manager Richie Diamond. Diamond said the colony of about 30 fox squirrels, named for their orange coloring and bushy tails, offer some entertainment to golfers waiting to hit their next shot during a busy day at the Hurley course.

“We’ve actually had photographers come out for the sole purpose of taking photos of the squirrels,” Diamond said.

To be clear, South Mississippi, with its river beds and woods, is no stranger to squirrels in general, but, as Pascagoula River Audubon Center Director Mark LaSalle explains, we’re used to seeing the gray squirrel in Jackson County. The gray squirrel tends to favor the piney woods common in this area.

The fox squirrel population, on the other hand, is “spotty” in Jackson County, LaSalle said. If groups of them are found, they’re found near river bottomland forests.

“You hear about them every once in awhile, but not so much in Jackson County, unless you get up farther north,” LaSalle said.
Why Whispering Pines? LaSalle surmises that, quite simply, the golf course must have the right mixture of everything that fox squirrels need to thrive.

Picture2-copy Fox Squirrels Entertain Golfers at Whispering Pines

Now that the new furry friends have settled down at the golf course, both LaSalle and Diamond agree that they easily co-exist with humans in a situation like this. (In fact, they probably aren’t even paying enough attention to judge your golf game.)
“They tend to go about their daily squirrel routine while paying very little attention to human activities,” Diamond said.

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Ocean Springs Mayor’s Youth Council Completes Recycle Bin Project

Youth-Recycling Ocean Springs Mayor's Youth Council Completes Recycle Bin Project

The City of Ocean Springs Mayor’s Youth Council recently completed their first large-scale final community project with the fruition of the Recycle Bin Project.

The project has been an idea of MYC Special Events Coordinator Caroline Wiygul since her first year on the council in 2016-2017, but the council was unable to complete it until this year. The council contacted several Gulf Coast businesses to ask for donations for the project. After the bins were delivered, MYC members hand painted each bin with a native Gulf Coast animal at the Ocean Springs Public Works Department.

“This project was a way for the youth of our City to say that recycling is important to us and to start something that City leadership can continue to expand if they want to,” Wiygul said.

Youth-Recycling Ocean Springs Mayor's Youth Council Completes Recycle Bin Project

The five recycling bins are placed around downtown with two on Government Street, two along Washington Avenue and one at City Hall.

“This past year’s council was very environmentally conscious and felt like hand-painted recycle bins would not only be a way to encourage responsible waste management amongst our citizens but would also be fun and reflect the artistic spirit of Ocean Springs,” said Cristina Werner, executive assistant to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen. “This project is important to our community because we have a responsibility as citizens to take care of our city, and the beautiful Gulf Coast that we get to enjoy every day.”

The Mayor’s Youth Council consists of 28 high school juniors and seniors from within the Ocean Springs School District. Each term lasts for one year. The council is funded by the City, but the council members fundraise year-round in order to maximize their annual budget. The council meets bimonthly and hosts community events and fundraisers and volunteers with the city’s special events.

“Being a part of the MYC is highly beneficial to our youth because it gives them the opportunity to exercise individual leadership skills, interpersonal communication with their peers and municipal leaders, public speaking, and to plan and execute special events,” Werner said.

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Smithsonian Exhibition Coming To Moss Point’s Pascagoula River Audubon Center June 2 – July 7, open to the public!

From above, Earth appears as a water planet with more than 71 percent of its surface covered with this vital resource for life. Water impacts climate, agriculture, transportation, industry and more. It inspires art and music. The Pascagoula River Audubon Center, in cooperation with Mississippi Humanities Council, will examine water as an environmental necessity and an important cultural element as it hosts “Water/Ways,” a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street (MoMS) program. “Water/Ways” will be on view Saturday June 2nd through Saturday July 7th, 2018.  

The Pascagoula River Audubon Center and the surrounding community has been expressly chosen by the Mississippi Humanities Council to host “Water/Ways” as part of the Museum on Main Street program—a national/state/local partnership to bring exhibitions and programs to rural cultural organizations. The exhibition will tour 6 communities in Mississippi from June 2nd through March 8th, 2019; an itinerary is included below.

image002 Smithsonian Exhibition Coming To Moss Point’s Pascagoula River Audubon Center June 2 - July 7, open to the public!

“Water/Ways” explores the endless motion of the water cycle, water’s effect on landscape, settlement and migration, and its impact on culture and spirituality. It looks at how political and economic planning have long been affected by access to water and control of water resources. Human creativity and resourcefulness provide new ways of protecting water resources and renewing respect for the natural environment.

image002 Smithsonian Exhibition Coming To Moss Point’s Pascagoula River Audubon Center June 2 - July 7, open to the public!

Designed for small-town museums, libraries and cultural organizations, “Water/Ways” will serve as a community meeting place to convene conversations about water’s impact on American culture. With the support and guidance of state humanities councils, these towns will develop complementary exhibits, host public programs and facilitate educational initiatives to raise people’s understanding about what water means culturally, socially and spiritually in their own community.

“We all live in a watershed and everything we do impacts our water. Water connects us and shapes us, from our landscapes to our lifestyles,” said Erin Parker, Pascagoula River Audubon Center’s Programs Manager. In addition to hosting “Water/Ways” the Audubon Center has developed local exhibit and public programs to compliment the Smithsonian exhibition. Such events include the free exhibit opening on Saturday, June 2nd that includes “A River in Stitches” Quilt Exhibit opening reception from 1-3pm and musical skit from local third graders as they perform “The Singing River Gets The Blues” at 10am. Each Saturday the Audubon Center will host a public program at 1pm that ties in with “Water/Ways” and includes a “Water/Ways Talk” with Dr. Jim Guisen, Mobile Baykeeper Talk, Writing on the River with Mary Ann O’Gorman, and a Rain Barrel Workshop with Center Director Mark LaSalle.

“We are super excited and proud to be the first host site for this traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian!  Water/Ways is all about water and how it shapes our landscapes, how it plays a role in religions, how we value it aesthetically, how lack of water is just as critical as too much water — any way that water is connected to people is probably explored in this exhibit.

This exhibit is really incredible for people to see that this is here in Moss Point.  It is very interactive and engaging!  Water is much more important than people realize.  This will help them understand the importance of water.

We are proud of this partnership with Mississippi Humanities Council.  It is a perfect fit.   We are already exploring more ways to work together. The Pascagoula River is a very unique body of water in Mississippi and the country,” said Parker.

 “Water/Ways” is part of the Smithsonian’s Think Water Initiative to raise awareness of water as a critical resource for life through exhibitions, educational resources and public programs. The public can participate in the conversation on social media at #thinkWater.

“Water/Ways” was inspired by an exhibition organized by the American Museum of Natural History, New York (www.amnh.org), and the Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul (www.smm.org), in collaboration with Great Lakes Science Center, Cleveland; The Field Museum, Chicago; Instituto Sangari, Sao Paulo, Brazil; National Museum of Australia, Canberra; Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada; San Diego Natural History Museum; and Science Centre Singapore with PUB Singapore.

The exhibition is part of Museum on Main Street, a unique collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), state humanities councils across the nation, and local host institutions. To learn more about “Water/Ways” and other Museum on Main Street exhibitions, visit www.museumonmainstreet.org.

Support for MoMS has been provided by the U.S. representative for Mississippi’s 4th congressional district, Steven Palazzo, and the U.S. Congress.

                  SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for 65 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play. For exhibition description and tour schedules, visit www.sites.si.edu.

See this exhibit from the Smithsonian.  Water is much more important that most people realize

WATER/WAYS Mississippi Itinerary

May 31 – July 7
Moss Point, Pascagoula River Audubon Center
5107 Arthur St, Moss Point, MS 39563

July 14 – August 25
Meridian, Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum
1808 4th St, Meridian, MS 39301

August 31 – October 13
Clarksdale, Lower Mississippi River Foundation
291 Sunflower Ave, Clarksdale, MS 38614

October 20 – November 30
Ocean Springs, Ocean Springs Municipal Library
525 Dewey Ave, Ocean Springs, MS 39564

December 7, 2018 – January 19, 2019
Jackson, Mississippi Agriculture & Forestry Museum
1150 Lakeland Dr, Jackson, MS 39216

January 25, 2019 – March 8, 2019
Columbus, Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Transportation Museum
318 7th St. N., Columbus, MS 39703


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A Jackson County Jewel Turns 19

IMG_7571 A Jackson County Jewel Turns 19

This Jewel of Jackson County has been providing Stewardship, Research, Education, and Training about our unique coastal estuaries for 19 years now.  The Grand Bay Estuarine Research Reserve plays an important role by partnering with local industry, schools, and professional science and research venues to gather important data and research to help us preserve the coastal environment we all enjoy here.  Established in 1999 under the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (DMR) as part of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERR), it is 18,000 acres of pure coastal beauty.

IMG_7571 A Jackson County Jewel Turns 19

The savannas, salt marshes/pannes, bays, and bayous here along the Pascagoula and Escatawpa River deltas are among some of the most beautiful and unique anywhere on the planet.  The Grand Bay NERR had its humble beginnings with a few modular commercial trailers and dedicated staff in 1999.  It has now grown into its own sporting a ground breaking 20,000 square foot Coastal Resources Center.  The building was the state’s first government owned LEED Gold Certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building by the US Green Building Council (USGBC).  Inside you’ll find meeting space, classrooms, interactive exhibits, dorms and private rooms for visiting researchers along with administrative offices.  Basically, the Grand Bay NERR put its building money where its heart is; environmental stewardship, energy savings, ecology, and low impact footprint.  The sustainable design strategy can be seen throughout the facility.  But, the GBNERR is much more than a wonderful building.

Look past the Coastal Research Center and you’ll find boardwalks, birding trails, blueways for paddling, and yes, even hunting by permit.  If you’re looking for wildlife sightings, well, you will find it.  Check this link for a list of typical sightings, stories, and photographs.  You will also enjoy the many family friendly and community oriented events the GBNERR offers throughout the year.  There are programs for all ages that educate and stimulate.

IMG_7571 A Jackson County Jewel Turns 19

You can check out their Facebook page @GrandBayNERR and their website, grandbaynerr.org, for details on all the events and educational opportunities offered there.  The professional, knowledgeable staff also will come and speak to your group/organization OR you can plan to bring your group to their large meeting room for a change of scenery and pace.

The Grand Bay NERR is a true jewel in our community with so much to offer and they would like you to celebrate their 19th year with them!  On June 15th, from 10AM-2PM, they are having a birthday party with a special look at Bewildering Bugs that are unique to the reserve area.  Sandra Huynh, Director’s Assistant at Grand Bay NERR says, “There will be family friendly games, crafts, trail tours, & more…Be sure to pack your lunch for a picnic!”  Are you busy on June 15th?  Maybe bugs aren’t your thing?  Well, no worries!  June 16th they will host a Rain Barrel Workshop from 9 AM – 11 AM.  Learn more about how to “collect and store water during storms that can be used for: watering your lawn or plants in your garden, washing your pets, and cleaning your car. They are a great way to save money on your water bill while helping reduce the impacts of stormwater runoff.”  Then, you get to build your very own rain barrel!  Please contact Dennis McGrury to register (228-523-4190 or dennis.mcgrury@dmr.ms.gov). Cost is $35 per barrel constructed.

HAPPY 19TH BIRTHDAY GRAND BAY NERR!  Jackson County is fortunate to have you!


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Jackson County’s Turtles are on the Move

2017-03-27-14.18.44 Jackson County's Turtles are on the Move
2017-03-27-14.18.44 Jackson County's Turtles are on the Move

Did you know that Mississippi is home to more than 35 species of turtle? We have sea turtles visiting our Gulf barrier islands and beaches, box turtles in our backyards, and a variety of aquatic turtles basking in our waterways. 

Late spring and early summer is peak egg-laying season for turtles from Loggerhead Sea Turtles on the front beaches to Common Snapping Turtles in your garden. Even turtles that spend the majority of their lives happily buried in the soft bottoms of our lakes and lagoons are lumbering out to lay their eggs on land.  If you have observed an increase in the numbers and diversity of turtles, they are probably heading to or from their preferred egg laying site. 

2017-03-27-14.18.44 Jackson County's Turtles are on the Move

Turtles lay soft, leathery eggs like other reptiles and may lay as few as 4 or 5 in the case of our Gulf Coast Box Turtles to more than 100 with large Sea Turtles. Mother turtles do not nurture their young, after egg-laying, they head back to the water or burrow. Turtle eggs and hatchling turtles are a favorite snack of many species from opossums to raccoons to several species of snakes, and even ghost crabs down on the shore.

Baby turtles that do make it will chip their way out of their egg with a special egg tooth that later falls off, and make their way toward shelter where they’ll eat, try to avoid predators and cars, and slowly grow larger. 

If you see a turtle on the road, and it is safe for you to do so, you can help move them in the direction they were heading. Be careful of your fingers, as turtles can snap, and do not lift turtles by their tails. 

It is NOT a good idea to remove turtles from the wild as they are quite tied to the place where they hatched, often spending their entire life within a one-acre area. Turtles can spread illness such as Salmonella to humans and humans can unwittingly spread disease to captive turtles. Aquatic turtles, in particular, do not make good pets as they require natural sunlight to process some of the nutrients in their food and require a great deal of tank cleaning due to the messes they make while eating and excreting! Several of Mississippi’s turtles are threatened or endangered, and should be enjoyed with photographs and returned immediately to where they were found. 

To learn more about our indigenous Jackson County wildlife, go to http://pascagoulariver.audubon.org

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