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Turtle Dreamtime


Fri, Dec 7th, 2001
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By John LevellMonday, December 10, 2001

While long winter naps certainly seem appealing, a cold weather snooze lasting some five or six months is just a tad bit excessive. Factor in not a breath of fresh air or single bite of food for the entire duration of this siesta as well, and the concept becomes downright uninviting indeed. This is, however, precisely the prospect confronting turtles here in southeastern Minnesota each and every year.

Like all reptiles, turtles are what zoologists term "ectothermic," a fancy scientific word that when translated basically means "external heat." Although commonly called cold-blooded (in contrast to the internally produced or endothermic heating system of the "warm-blooded" mammals and birds), turtles and other ectotherms like amphibians, fish and insects simply rely on the environment to maintain bodily heat.

Naturally, long-term exposure to freezing conditions would inevitably soon prove fatal to any animal whose body cools as external temperatures fall. Unable to make like a tourist and wing off to more amiable climates like many birds, cold-blooded animals must instead find some frost-proof haven in order to survive the rigors of harsh northern winters. For local turtles these winter retreats are almost invariably the unfrozen bottoms of rivers, lakes, ponds and streams. There, within the sanctuary provided by muskrat burrows, sunken trees or just burrowed into the mud, our turtles sleep the cold days away.

Although some species are more cold tolerant than others, a winter dormancy lasting from late October to early April is normal for even the hardiest of regional turtles. For the majority of this period many will remain securely locked within what amounts to little more than a cold, dark, wet, and completely ice-blanketed tomb.

Really hardy species, Snappers and Painted Turtles for example, are occasionally seen moving about sluggishly under the ice but most turtles spend much of the winter in a state of suspended animation most commonly called hibernation. While in this state of cold-induced torpor, heart rate, respiration, and brain activity all slow to almost imperceptible levels. Whether enduring this condition for days, weeks or months, hibernating turtles remain tightly withdrawn inside of their shells, unmoving and almost lifeless, never rising to the surface to breathe.

While the mechanisms that enable air-breathing animals to stay submer .....
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Is It Really Winter?

Fri, Dec 7th, 2001
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Virginia CooperMonday, December 3, 2001

As I sit down to write this column, I wonder if there is really anything left to say about gardening. This morning we all awoke to see a covering of white. It was quite lovely, but sad, as it does herald ..... 
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My Guarantee To You

Fri, Dec 7th, 2001
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Monday, December 3, 2001

I just got up off the kitchen floor. Our five-year-old dishwasher needed my attention. About two weeks ago it started running water out its door. Maybe it was trying to tell us that the kitchen floor needed scrubbing. ..... 
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Amid the Clutter

Fri, Dec 7th, 2001
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Monday, December 10, 2001

I have three computers on my desk. I pretend that the sheer number of microchips and high-tech gear humming in proximity to me are directly proportional to the important role I play in putting out a paper every week. ..... 
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Fri, Dec 7th, 2001
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Fri, Dec 7th, 2001
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Fri, Dec 7th, 2001
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Submit a Letter to the Editorhere

Fri, Dec 7th, 2001
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To the Editor,
Monday, December 10, 2001

To the Editor,

I am writing in response to two letters in the November 26, 2001 Journal.

I would like to commend Gabe Dybing on calling Mr. Panko to task on his views of organi ..... 
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