When I first spotted the large Snapping Turtle in the field during my walk in Eliza Howell Park this morning, I immediately suspected that it was on a mission to find warm friable earth for laying and burying eggs.
The Common Snapping Turtle has a carapace (upper shell) that is over a foot in length. It spends almost its entire life in water; the usual reason for traveling any distance from the river in June is to make a nest.
It stopped walking when I got close and withdrew its head.
I immediately left it to its mission, hoping I might find its nesting location when I returned later.
About 50 minutes later I returned to the area and was able to locate it. She (I now knew it was a female) was on some soft soil at the edge of a bench platform that had been installed this spring. She was obviously involved in laying eggs in the soil.
Over the next hour and 15 minutes I watched, at times from a distance and at times from much closer, as she labored to deposit eggs in the ground. Snapping Turtles lay about 20 – 40 ping-pong size eggs and cover them with soil. The warm soil is the incubator.
Being so occupied, she did not seem to mind when I got closer (I was quiet and made no sudden moves).
She could be anywhere from about 1 to 4 decades old; at about 10 years old, they reach maturity and they might live to about 40. As adults they have few threats apart from humans. And at this egg-laying time of the year, they are at risk of being hit by vehicles when crossing roads.
If all goes well, the eggs will hatch in about 80 – 90 days and the hatchlings will find their own way to the river.
After covering the eggs, she walked away, heading back to her life in the water. Her active mothering role is over — for this year
Later, after returning home, I did a little research and learned that the sex of the young turtles is determined by the temperature in the underground nest. At certain temperatures, all become female and at other temperatures, all become male. There is only a very narrow range where there will be some of each.
The mother’s task completed, the only signs of her morning mission are the spot of disturbed soil and the temporary track of pushed-over plants that marked her route.
The question now is how will the eggs / young fare. Contrary to the situation of adults, they are at great risk of predators. But the start looks good.
And again Eliza Howell Park was the scene of a new nature walk experience.