HATCHLING SEASON (Mid-August to October)
If you reside in a rural community or are heading to the cottage over the coming weeks or your travels take you through the outskirts of any urban communities this is information to know and share.
The wait is almost over! Turtle hatchlings could start showing up as soon as mid August or anytime after until the end of October depending on the temperatures and weather patterns.
Mid August through to mid October is typically when hatchlings emerge from the nest. Keep an eye out for turtle hatchlings on roads, ATV trails, bike paths, driveways, parking areas, fire pits and/or building sites. Please be sure to check your lawn and in gardens before seeing to any seasonal maintenance. If you spot one hatchling check the area for the nest. Where there is one hatchling there could easily be more and not necessarily on the same day. Some nests hatch out in one day others over a period of a few days.
The following are ‘Turtle‘ related notes we hope you will find useful and informative leading up to and for when the turtle hatchlings emerge from their nests this turtle season and thereafter.
The incubation period for turtle nests is 60 to 90 days from the day the female turtle laid her eggs (clutch). This is a general guideline. When a nest will hatch out is dependent on the turtle species, where the nest is located, the amount of sunlight, moisture, temperatures the nest is subjected to, environmental factors and so much more. A warm summer can speed up the incubation period. A cooler summer and/or erratic temperatures and weather patterns like the ones we have been experiencing this turtle season could cause the hatchlings to be a little slower showing up but in the end we’re on turtle time. e.g. Snapping Turtles 50 to 100 days, Midland Painted Turtles 60 to 90 days, Blanding’s Turtles 60 to 90 days and Northern Map Turtles 60 to 90 days.
Note: The painted turtle and northern map turtle hatchlings often emerge from their egg but remain in the egg chamber for the winter. This is known as ‘overwintering’. They will emerge from the nest in the spring when the temperature suits them.
FOUND A HATCHLING
Assisting a hatchling from the area the nest is located to their intended body of water is allowed and helpful. This will enable hatchlings to bypass a vast array of predators they could encounter on route and increase their chances of survival. From the nest to the water hatchlings could face predators from the air and on land. This could include; crows, mink, skunks, foxes, seagulls, raccoons, herons, egrets, hawks, owls, fishers, bullfrogs, snakes, etc. Once in the water large fish, otters, even large snapping turtles and all manner of other aquatic inhabitants could be lying in wait to snack on hatchlings.
Note: When you find a hatchling keep in mind where there is one hatchling there could be more. Check the area the hatchling(s) were spotted for the nest. If able to keep an eye on that location for a few days on the off chance more hatchlings emerge from the nest.
If you stop to assist a hatchling or any turtle across the road or retrieve an injured turtle from the road it is imperative to make ‘SAFETY YOUR #1 PRIORITY!’ For every stop you make to help a turtle please ensure your own safety, the safety of any passengers with you and the safety of the other motorists on the roads.
Should you find a hatchling take it to the nearest slow moving body of water (within 1 km) of the nest in the direction the hatchling was headed. Handle turtle hatchlings carefully, their shells are soft and pliable. A grip that is firm enough to avoid dropping the hatchling but gentle will suffice.
Scout out a spot within the water body that has a shallow area and very importantly an area that has vegetation and/or leafy debris that will serve as protective covering and offer resting sites for the hatchlings. ‘DO NOT’ release hatchings into open water! There will be predators most assuredly lying in wait. Hatchlings will spend much of their early years hiding until they have gained some size and girth and are not so vulnerable to predators.
The hatchling should be placed at the waters edge or a shallow entry point where the hatchling can enter the water at their own pace. If a hatchling is put in water that is more then 2 inches deep to start off with no vegetation to cling on to the hatchling will have to tread water. A hatchling can only tread water for so long. Should a hatchling be released into water that is too deep and has no vegetation this could contribute to drowning.
Should there be a multiply of hatchlings to release spread them around the body of water. If possible 10 feet apart. This will reduce the chances of predators locating clusters of turtles and increase the number of hatchlings that survive.
Note: The body of water should also be one there is no risk of it freezing solid during the winter.
If you are using a nest protector and hatchlings have emerged it is recommended that you leave the nest protector installed for at least a week up to two weeks if you are able to. Some nests entirely hatch out within hours and some can take several days. Please allow hatchlings to emerge from the nest on their timeline. Hatchlings on the bottom of the nest may be slower to emerge.
Sometimes nests can be slow to hatch out. We have had hatchlings show up as late as Thanksgiving and even a bit later. This is not surprising as we are on ‘TURTLE TIME’ and must let nature unfold as intended. If you installed a nest protector or you know of a nest and the 60 to 90 days incubation period has since passed please ‘DO NOT’ dig up the nest. By digging up the nest before the eggs are ready to hatch may be enough to disrupt the natural incubation cycle and result in their death. It is important to note that it is illegal for citizens to disturb or move turtle eggs, remove them from the nest, be in possession of turtle eggs and/or attempt to incubate them. Only individuals and groups within the conservation community that have been issued an official permit are allowed to do so in conjunction with a hatchling head starting program and/or research.
The onset of cooler fall temperatures and accompanying weather patterns prompt some turtle hatchlings to remain in their nest for their first winter. They will emerge from the egg but remain in the nest chamber or below it, only a few inches below the frost line for the entire winter. This is a survival strategy known as ‘overwintering.’ It is used to escape limited food supplies, possible predators, cold temperatures and harsh winter conditions.
Overwintering is behavior more typical of painted turtles and map turtles but other turtle hatchling species such as snapping turtles and Blanding’s turtles resort to this survival tactic as well. From field observations there are indications that the number of turtle hatchlings of varying species resorting to overwintering each year is increasing in response to the effect climate change is having on the temperatures and weather patterns that trigger turtles to hibernate (brumate). The overwintering rate of success in some turtle species will vary due to the harshness of the winter and some turtle species not being as resilient under such conditions.
Painted turtle hatchlings despite their tiny size are wee marvels that are engineered to overwinter extremely well. During their winter dormancy ice crystals form around them and marginally in them but a self-generated type of antifreeze prevents them from an assured death. They remain in a super cooled state until the spring when the ground thaws, and they are ready to emerge from their nest.
As spring begins to sets in March/April is when we need to be on the lookout for the little turtles that overwintered making a showing. There are many potential predators between the nest and their intended body of water, as well as the possibility their travels may include crossing a road. As always it is hoped as many little turtles that choose to overwinter can be safely be intercepted next spring and released to go on to live a long and fruitful life.
Overwintering brings the hope of many little turtles in the spring to look forward to.Here is a link to time lapsed video footage from the BBC’s ‘Life in Cold Blood’ documentary series presented by David Attenborough. It offers a rare glimpse at painted turtle hatchlings overwintering.
The Painted Turtlehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ts5fp-ynp5U
It is unfortunate but each year despite the attentive efforts put into protecting turtle nests and monitoring them there are some nest failures. This can be due to the eggs not being fertilized, location or environmental challenges that prevent development and/or improper nest protection being used (e.g. plastic crate/wooden palette) that prevents the nest from getting enough sun, air circulation or moisture. It is always important to remember the nest is a living breathing entity as such has specific requirements that need to be met to survive the incubation period. Wood frame nest protectors are the preferred choice for people looking to protect a nest on their property.
PETS & TURTLES
It is a sad fact but sometimes our beloved pets can cause stress, injury or death to a turtle at varying stages of development (egg, hatchling, juvenile or adult).
There have been unfortunate cases of cats getting a hold of turtle hatchlings newly emerged from their nest or while the hatchlings are on route to their intended body of water. Quite often these circumstances do not end well given the size of the hatchlings and vulnerability of a turtle hatchling versus cat teeth or claws.
The family dog may have never hurt a fly but in the course of routine outdoor activities unfortunately encounters do occur between dogs and turtles (eggs, hatchling, juvenile and adult). Dogs have been known to accidentally dig up turtle nests, eat turtle eggs, view a hatchling, juvenile or adult turtle as a chew toy and in some cases given the dog(s) concerned the encounter surpasses curiosity or playfulness and is an attack on a turtle. Hopefully never to be the case but this type of unfortunate incident if it occurs comes down to our beloved pets acting instinctively at the time.
With hatchlings showing up anytime soon it is of course realized that you cannot watch your cat or dog every minute while outdoors. Please take extra care if you observe your cat/dog very intently focused on an area in your yard especially if you observed possible nesting activities on your property or public property your cat/dog has access to.
If there are any health concerns about a hatchling or any turtle found in the wild please call the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre (OTCC) home of Ontario’s turtle hospital at 705-741-5000 as soon as possible. OTCC admit turtles from all across Ontario. The hospital is located at 1434 Chemong Road, Unit #4 in Peterborough and is presently the only wildlife rehabilitation centre in Ontario dedicated “SOLEY” to providing medical and rehabilitative care to the Ontario turtles. The OTCC provides medical care at ‘no charge’ and have turtle taxi volunteers to assist with transportation from anywhere in Ontario. Once treated and rehabilitated the turtles are released back into their natural habitat at the point of origin where it is hoped they will live a long life and continue to reproduce for many decades.
This is important to species recovery efforts and ensuring future generations of turtles.
REMOVING TURTLES FROM THE WILD IS ILLEGAL!
Turtle hatchlings are adorable! Do not be tempted to take one as a pet or relocate one to your pond. Under Ontario’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, there is a maximum fine of $25,000, up to a year in jail or both for removing a turtle from the wild, having a turtle(s) in your possession and or harming a turtle. If buying, selling, trading turtles is the case, being a species at risk the penalty is a maximum fine of $100,000, two years in jail or both. If you witness or suspect any of these illegal activities please report this to the Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667) with as many details as possible including a license plate number if at all possible and applicable. If you prefer to report anonymously contact Crime Stoppers 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or report the incident through their online reporting form.
Snapping turtle hatchling.