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Promoting Public Awareness Of Wildlife Habitats Through Environmental Education

Turtle Hatching Season is Upon Us!

Turtle Hatching Season is Upon Us

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It’s that time of year again and we can soon expect to see many turtle hatchlings exiting their nest and beginning their trek to water. Typically, turtles begin the hunt for their perfect nesting area in May and June. During this time, it is extremely important that we are aware of turtles that are on the move.

All turtles lay their eggs on land and can travel a significant distance to find a suitable location. Often times during these early summer months, you will see nesting females on the roads as they search for sandy or gravelly areas which are easy to dig in and therefore the best place to lay their eggs. These spots are typically on the sides of roads and trails or on the banks of water bodies but can occasionally be located in people’s yards! Because turtles are so often on the road, car mortality is the biggest threat to adult survival. Hatchlings face many more threats and the survival rate is approximately 1%. In an effort to increase the survival rate, Kids for Turtles has implemented a turtle nesting program in which we place wire cages over nests. These cages have holes that are wide enough for a hatchling to get through, but they are too small for predators such as dogs, racoons or skunks to get in and dig up the nest. Predation, or the attack of a nest, can very easily wipe out the entire clutch of eggs. Should this happen to one nest, there can be a huge impact on the turtle populations and unfortunately, this happens to the majority of nesting sites as they are left unprotected. If you see a turtle laying a nest or you know that this is a regular occurrence on your property or somewhere near you, you are more than welcome to contact Kids for Turtles to sign up for the nesting program and receive your own cage(s).

The incubation periods for turtles common in our area are approximately: 72-80 days for Painted turtles, 50-75 days for Blanding’s turtles, 63-126 days for Snapping turtles and 50-70 days for the Northern Map turtle. It is possible for turtle hatchlings to remain in their nest during the winter months and hatch in the spring rather than their typical fall dates. Turtles do not give any parental care which means that as soon as they lay their eggs, they leave the nest and return to their habitat. This means that hatchling turtles are required to fend for themselves as they make their way from the nest to their new homes. Hatchlings are born with an “egg tooth” on their upper snout that falls off after a few days of exiting the nest. Because the hatchlings exit the egg underground, it is possible that you would not see many egg shell remnants surrounding the nest. It is more likely that you would simply see disturbed ground around the nest opening and along the trail the turtle takes as they make their way to their new home. If you have a nesting cage, it is incredibly important that you monitor your nest in the coming days to ensure that you aware of any hatching activity. Taking pictures and recording things such as the species of turtle, how many hatchlings there were and which area you suspect they are going to can be essential in building a successful program that helps to grow turtle populations in our area.

How can you help? Keep checking your nesting cage and recording what you see! When your nest has hatched, contact Kids for Turtles and we will come get the cage back! If you don’t already have a cage, look out for baby turtles on the road. If you do happen to find a hatching nest, remember it really isn’t very helpful to try and help the turtles hatch. They know what they need to do and it is important that they do it on their own! Contacting us with the species you have found and where they are is the best way to help!

Sydney Raeburn is the Programs and Outreach Coordinator and Turtle Nesting Supervisor for the Summer of 2014.