Posted On: 11/08/2017 - 12:20pm, Posted By: Other
This post is guest-authored by Stanley Hedeen, professor emeritus at Xavier University and long-time volunteer at the Geier Collections & Research Center.
The zoology collection of Cincinnati Museum Center holds a large number of turtle, snake, and lizard species from the Cincinnati area. Reptiles also are represented in the museum’s archaeological holdings of animal bones unearthed at local prehistoric Native American village sites. The prehistoric Native Americans consumed snakes and turtles, and strung perforated turtle femurs to wear as ornaments. Empty turtle carapaces were used as spoons, cups, and bowls. Turtle shells became dance rattles when they were wrapped with animal hide and filled with stones or dried corn kernels.
Carapace of an Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina), the only one of the region’s turtles that lives in the forest.
Some area residents today continue to hunt turtles for food, but vehicle drivers on our roads end the lives of more of the shelled reptiles than do hunters. Local people also continue to kill snakes, but not for consumption. Of the region’s three venomous serpents, the Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) and Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus) have become rare while the Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) has vanished from the area. In contrast, the European Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis) has become an abundant reptile in the region.
European Common Wall Lizards in the reptile collection of the Cincinnati Museum Center. You can spot some live specimens in the Duke Energy Children’s Museum!
The Common Wall Lizard was introduced in the early 1950s by George Rau, a child who captured individuals of the species in Italy and released them in the yard of his Cincinnati home. Offspring of the founder animals have dispersed throughout the area, in part because people who consider them to be garden pets have relocated them to other municipalities in Southwestern Ohio and Northern Kentucky. The introduced lizard occupies the same urban habitats that it does in its native Europe, e.g. stone walls, piles of construction debris, and rock ballast beneath railroad tracks. The foreign wall lizard does not seem to compete with our native lizards in the urban environment since the local species are not adapted to live in human-built environments.