Turtle Nest Time

It’s turtle nesting season. There’ve been numerous aquatic turtle sightings along the paths and outdoor exhibits in the past few weeks, this week especially so. Both sliders and painted turtles have been observed searching for suitable nesting sites. Some have been seen in the act of digging a nest and laying eggs.

This slider is busy laying eggs.

After a satisfactory site is chosen the turtle urinates on the site loosening the hard clay making digging much easier. Digging is done with the hind legs. Once the hole is dug, 3 to perhaps 12 eggs are deposited. It may take 90 days or more for the eggs to hatch.

After laying, the turtle covers the hole with the mud from her excavations, even going so far as to replace mulch, leaf liter or grasses that may have been present at the start of her work. All this, without being able to see what she’s doing.

Covering the hole with mud, sight unseen.

The female in the accompanying photos was spotted in Into the Mist. Fortunately for her she’d already started the nesting process before visitors to the exhibit arrived. If she had been disturbed just prior to or during the digging process, she may have aborted the mission, not completed the nest.

Unable to see behind her, she does an excellent job of covering the nest hole.

Once the egg laying is underway, the turtles often follow through regardless of who or what is watching them, though they may lay fewer eggs. So, if you happen to see a turtle walking along the path, or already in the process of digging or laying, give her a wide berth, let her do what she came to do, in peace. Watch from a distance.

She covers the mud with mulch.
Here, she reaches over to grab straw.
There, it’s in place.
Stretching to reach leaves.
When the work’s all done, it’s as if she was never there.

After the nest is sufficiently concealed she heads back to the safety of water, our wetlands.

The long walk back to the wetlands begins.
Through the grass.
Over hill and dale.
Across the wide open spaces.
She hurries along.
Finally into the cover of the brush. It’s all downhill from here.

There’s another very good reason to give the turtle plenty of space. People seem to signal food to raccoons. Human scent around a turtle’s nest is going to draw in hungry, night-prowling raccoons who will be only too happy to dig up a turtle’s nest for their fresh and delicious eggs.

Our turtle, will likely be fortunate. There is so much human scent in the exhibit (it’s a favorite of kids) that a raccoon wouldn’t know where to turn when entering the area. In fact, the nest is currently unmolested three days after the turtle laid her eggs. If a nest survives its first night it’ll probably make it to egg hatching time.

Have fun out there!

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