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Box turtle makes a bid for Harrisburg

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Friday, May 8, 2009

While most Americans these days are focused on bulls and bears, representing the ups and downs of Wall Street, the Pennsylvania House Tuesday made time in its schedule for passage of a bill naming the Eastern Box Turtle as the official state reptile.

The seemingly innocuous bill, sponsored by Rep. Lawrence Curry (D-Montgomery/Philadelphia), was not without controversy. A legislator from Williamsport who favored the Eastern timber rattlesnake for the state honor unsuccessfully failed to table the bill.

A plodding creature prone to hide its head and a venomous viper both would seem to be on familiar ground in Harrisburg,. But the box turtle has a distinct advantage in its bid for Pennsylvania's stamp of approval: fourth-graders from Glenside Elementary School, who nominated the turtle for the honor as a class project.

According to their teacher, the budding herpetologists took the turtle's plight to heart after learning at school that the species is being threatened by a dwindling population, habitat destruction, lawn chemicals, predators, highway traffic and being removed from the wild to be sold as pets.

The colorful box turtles, with spotted heads and patterned shells, commonly live up to 30 years. They make their homes in a variety of habitats -- including both wooded swamps and dry, grassy fields. But they are most abundant in moist forested areas with plenty of underbrush. They are omnivores, eating both plants and other animals.

In Pennsylvania, the Eastern Box Turtle can be found everywhere expect in the northern tier of counties. Its overall range extends from Massachusetts west to the Mississippi River and south to Georgia.

The turtle species already is recognized as the state reptile in North Carolina. In fact, its scientific name is "terrapene carolina."

It has not yet reached the finish line of the path to official recognition in Pennsylvania. House Bill 621 still must win approval in the Senate.

If it does so, it will join these other official Pennsylvania flora, fauna and objects: animal, whitetail deer; bird, ruffed grouse; dog, Great Dane; fish, brook trout; insect, firefly; flower, Mountain Laurel; tree, hemlock; ship, United State Brig Niagara; beverage, milk; fossil, trilobite (also known as Phacops rana, an extinct relative of crabs, lobster and spiders).

If the General Assembly ever gets around to naming an official state mystery food, my pick would be scrapple (also known by the German-derived name "pawn haas").

I occasionally enjoy the dish, which is a mixture of pork scraps, cornmeal and flour. But, as with hot dogs, I don't really want to examine the ingredient list too closely.

While the Scots have their haggis, scrapple has become strongly associated with Pennsylvania. It was introduced in America by German colonists who settled in the Philadelphia/Chester County area in the 17th and 18th centuries.

A bill sponsoring scrapple as Pennsylvania's mystery food would be one piece of pork legislation I would support. Vegetarians can take comfort in the fact that a meatless version of the dish, substituting soy protein or wheat gluten, is available. But, given the current unjustified pork phobia associated with the "swine flu" outbreak, it's probably an idea that's ahead of its time.

Allergy Awareness

State officials have weighed in on an unrelated food subject, as Gov. Ed Rendell recently proclaimed Sunday through May 16 Food Allergy Awareness Week in Pennsylvania.

For those of us who aren't affected by such conditions, it can be hard to understand how someone could suffer a potentially dangerous allergic reaction to simply the odor of peanuts. But, in fact, food allergies are a growing concern in the United States.

According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), food allergies affect about 12 million Americans, or one out of every 25. That number includes about three million children under the age of 18, reflecting an 18-percent increase in youngsters with food allergies between 1997 and 2007.

For parents of such children, keeping their kids safe is a daily challenge when shopping at the supermarket or dining out.

Now in its 12th year, Food Allergy Awareness Week will be marked in the area with a reading from "Alexander the Elephant Who Couldn't Eat Peanuts" at 1 p.m. May 16 at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh.

As a follow-up activity, a Walk for Food Allergy is slated for Sept. 20 in Pittsburgh. Visit . for more information and to register.

For more information on Food Allergy Awareness Week, visit .

Photographer honored

Blairsville artist Joy Fairbanks has had one of her photographs accepted into the 2009 Hoyt Regional Exhibition. John Carson, who heads Carnegie Mellon University's School of Art, served as juror for the show, selecting 90 works out of the 305 entered.

An opening reception is set for 2-4 p.m. Sunday at the Hoyt Institute in New Castle.

Fairbanks is a member of the Indiana Art Association, the Pittsburgh Society of Artists, the Allied Artists of Johnstown and the National Collage Society. Selections of her work can be viewed on the new Artists Hand Gallery Web site: .



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