Monday, August 10, 2009

Tortoise Death Spurs Intrepid Investigators



By Aryana and Dan, HDM teen volunteers

It’s 9 a.m. at the High Desert Museum. A scream shatters the silence of the cool summer morning.

Teen investigators from the C.R.I.T.T.E.R.S. (Children Researching In To The Ecology of Rotting Stuff), Dan and Aryana, review the facts. Dunn the desert tortoise has died, apparently of natural causes. Or DID he?

We set out to investigate the body. We check in with Museum education staff Linda Rhine and Erica Benton, who are distraught. We go to the gruesome scene and find the dead tortoise on top of an ant hill. It is in a cage to protect it from scavenging animals. The staff are having the ants clean out his shell which they'll use for education programs.

We do some research on desert tortoises. The Gopherus Agassizii live in dry rocky areas, especially hillsides and canyons in Arizona, Nevada, and Southern California. Desert tortoises can grow up to fourteen inches long.

We are not sure of Dunn’s age. The Museum got him from a rehabilitation specialist when he was fully grown. These tortoises can live up to 50 years.

Being C.R.I.T.T.E.R.S. agents, we know a thing or two about dead stuff.

Decomposition in the desert occurs more slowly than in other environments. The dry, hot air means that fewer bacteria can survive, so bodies tend to decay more slowly.

Dunn apparently died on June 22. He is not decaying quickly. There are some holes in his skin, and his eyes are completely gone. Enzymes and chemicals inside the body break down the cells. That makes dead bodies all discolored, squishy, stinky and bloated!

We talk to the Museum’s senior wildlife specialist, Otis Powell, about the death of the tortoise, and conclude that Dunn died from calcified kidneys. That’s when the kidneys solidify and can’t process waste.

Well, that wraps up another successful investigation from the C.R.I.T.T.E.R.S crew. Stay tuned for more intrepid intrigue.

And, come and check out all of the wild – and very alive – animals at the Museum!

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