From 6-6:45 AM yesterday, I watched as this Snapping Turtle, about the same size as the one that commandeered my lower deck a couple weeks ago, slowly examined the area adjacent to the deck.
She repeatedly crawled a foot or so and then lowered her chin to the ground, hindquarters in the air.
As this was the area I was digging up when I’d accidentally hatched a Snapping Turtle last fall, I was convinced she was looking for a place to drop her eggs. I was also convinced that now that my previous deck no longer protected the hard clay, she wouldn’t lay them here.
Reluctantly, I had to quit observing and leave the house at 6:45.
When I got home in the late afternoon, I was delighted to find a 10:30 AM email from my neighbor, Sarah, with a photo (below) of what she called “your turtle friend” enjoying the flowers in my front garden. Note that the tail is helping support the turtle’s body.
And then I remembered another spot in the garden where, about a week ago, I was puzzled to find a large depression, about 18″ in diameter and about 5” deep, which I couldn’t blame on deer. I believe now that it was another nest of Snapping Turtle eggs, made by another or by the same female turtle that was fertilizing a second clutch of eggs.
Female Snapping Turtles can hold sperm from the male for several years, dispensing it as she chooses, a choice generally guided by the degree of favorability for the viability of the hatchlings.
Other critters in the natural world also have unique ways to ensure the survival of species. Male bears (boars) impregnate female bears (sows) in the fall. If the sow is not in good enough health to survive cub birth in January or February, or if she is not strong enough to provide adequate lactation for the cubs, she reabsorbs her fetuses.
Whatever the reasons, it looks like a bumper year for Snapping Turtle hatchlings.
Females lay 25-80 eggs in a clutch, and they’ll hatch in 9-18 weeks, depending on temperatures.
Temperature determines not only the length of incubation; it also determines the gender of the turtles. Females hatch in warmest area of the clutch, and males hatch in the coolest area. Depending on the ambient temperatures, warmest and coolest could be at the top or at the bottom of the stack.
Because of climate change, some species of turtles are experiencing a shortage of males.
I’ll need to be careful not to change the depth the turtle or turtles selected for their eggs because I trust turtles’ maternal instincts. They predate dinosaurs by a bunch, having existed for the last 300,000,000 years and probably know exactly how deep their eggs need to be buried.
Photos © Carole Clement and Sarah