Herpy Tuesday: The Great Snapping Turtle Observation

Back on May 30, 2016 we stumbled – literally walked into it – into a Common Snapping Turtle female as she painstakingly dug a nest in the sand bank next to the creek. We watched this millennia-old tableau of reptilian reproduction for over two hours while the gnats and mosquitoes made meals of us. Late May and early June is when we begin to see a lot of these turtles as they cross roads to either find mates or to return to favored nesting sites. Her hind legs made a last few strokes of sand over the nest. A moment of sleepy blinking, then she hauled herself the final yard over now-hot sand back to the creek. 

Common Snapping Turtle eggs take generally around 90 days to incubate. We wish. We sweated for an additional 20 days, walking each afternoon to the creek to peer into the screened enclosure that shielded the nest from predators. Finally…FINALLY!… on the 110th day, hatchlings! 

Three quarter-sized babies had burrowed out of the nest cavity and into the sunlight. Only this trio had survived of the the approximately 25 eggs that we found. We moved the newly hatched snappers to the creek. One scurried into the current and floated away. The second burrowed beneath silt and wet dead leaves. The last hauled itself back up the bank into the roots of some plants. Three babies, three escape strategies – which will prevail? A snapper could live 100 years. They all have to survive that first day, though.

Later we found five unbroken eggs still in the bottle-shaped nest cavity. These failed to hatch after another 30 days. We found what we estimated to be another 15 broken eggs in the nest. These looked as if they possibly had been eaten by insects or other soil organisms.