Saturday, June 25, 2011

Advice on Snapping Turtle Eggs

Photo by Brian Cook, used with permission
My friend Brian was excited to discover that his resident snapping turtle (Common Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentina) laid eggs in the field near the pond on his property. Sadly, the eggs never hatched. Instead, they provided a gourmet breakfast for some local crows. Brian wondered if he should have done something to protect the vulnerable eggs. Good question!

Trying to provide him with some sound advice, I checked all my favorite turtle sites on the internet and did numerous Google searches. Interestingly, I didn't come up with very much information, so I took my many questions to Julie Maguire, a New York State Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator who runs Turtle Rescue of Long Island. Here are her answers:

Aren't turtle eggs usually buried?

Yes. Generally the female snapping turtle digs a hole, moving the dirt or sand with her back feet. She lays her eggs in the hole, then she covers the eggs with the loose material she removed to make the hole. Since these eggs were out in the open, the female may have gotten scared off or interrupted by something or other before she finished her nesting ritual.

Would crows or raccoons have eaten the eggs if they were properly buried?

Perhaps. A nest of turtle eggs might be discovered by a hungry critter with a good snout. Crows or ravens would be more likely to go after easy food, grabbing exposed eggs or hatchlings.

Should you protect snapping turtle eggs?

Well, snappers in New York State are not threatened or endangered, so you could just leave Mother Nature alone. However, if done properly, there's no harm in protecting the eggs.

What is a good way to protect a nest of snapping turtle eggs?

Use an upside-down milk crate (or similar) with a heavy brick on top. This will allow air flow to keep temperatures normal but not confine the hatchlings when they emerge. The little snappers will break out of their eggs in six to ten weeks, depending upon the temperature. They will instinctively head for the pond. If you happen to be there, you can give them a hand and move them to the pond.

Is it ok to move a nest of snapping turtle eggs?

Yes, but follow a few simple precautions. Handle the eggs very gently and don’t turn them at all. The eggs need to stay in the same position so as not to detach the embryo.

What if you weren't very happy about a snapping turtle roaming about or about having turtle eggs hatch in your yard?

Try to be tolerant of the presence of the turtle. Keep in mind that snapping turtles leave the water only to nest. Once the eggs are laid, the turtle will head back to the pond. She won't be sticking around to tend the eggs. In any case, please don't try to move the turtle. You could get hurt if you don't do it properly, plus moving the turtle increases the chance that while trying to get back to her pond she will wander across a road and get hit by a car. This is the sad fate of all too many turtles at this time of year.

If you want to move the nest to a more out-of-the way spot, first give some thought to where the hatchlings will emerge and make sure they won't have to cross a road to get to water. After that, just follow the instructions in the question above.

RELATED POSTS on Truffles, Turtles & Tunes:

What to do if you find an injured or ill turtle
How to help a Snapping Turtle Cross the Road (video by the Toronto Zoo)

© 2011, Linda Mason Hood
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