Wednesday, June 26, 2013

It's getting snappy here on the farm....

It's that time of year again here on the farm. New life is popping up all over and the rebirth is in full swing.

One species that has become a regular sight lately here on the farm is the snapping turtle.  It's not uncommon to see them on Husker Rd. as they are busy trying to find the perfect spot to lay their eggs.

 A female Snapper laying eggs.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

In fact, a few weeks ago Arik witnessed a snapping turtle climbing to the top of our mulch pile.  He was able to capture a photo of her big adventure.  

Female Snapper here on the farm looking for a nesting spot
A week or so later, as I was shoveling mulch, I stumbled upon a large pile of ping pong shaped eggs.  I immediately covered them back up, well, after a picture of course, and have been checking daily to make sure they haven't been disturbed by predators.

The nest of eggs found in our mulch pile.
I'm happy to report that as of today, they are still hidden and safe. Although the choice of where to lay her eggs has been a bit of a nuisance as far as mulch convenience, it appears she picked smart.  We had another nest of turtle eggs, that was discovered here on the farm, very quickly eliminated by a raccoon. 

Photo courtesy of National Geographic not Arington Tree Farm 

I'm happy to travel to other places for mulch in order to watch this hatching cycle play out.  I hope to be able to share with you photos of the little hatchlings as they make their journey towards water. If I had it my way, I'd just carry them all safely there, but Holly has scolded me to allow nature to take it's course. 

Although Snapping Turtles spend most of their time underwater and rarely leave their aquatic habitat, females will travel extensively over land to find sandy soil in which to lay their eggs, with June and July being their peak laying season.

Once they find the perfect spot, they dig a shallow bowl shaped nest with their hind legs, in a well-drained, sunny location. The female will typically deposit 25 to 80 ping pong shaped eggs into the nest and cover them for incubation and protection.  After covering the eggs, the female will then return to the water, leaving the eggs and hatchlings to fend for themselves.  A typical incubation period can last anywhere from 9-18 weeks depending on the weather.  Unless of course they are found by a raccoon, skunk, or crow first.  As many as 90% or more of the nests are destroyed annually by predators.

If the eggs can make it past their predators, they will generally hatch between August and October.  Once they emerge, they will instinctively head towards water.  Young hatchlings are about an inch long with soft shells making them once again, vulnerable to prey.  During their journey to water they are often preyed upon by raccoons, foxes, dogs, birds, skunks and snakes.  If they are lucky enough to make it to water, they may then be preyed upon by fish or other snapping turtles.  It's a miracle that any of them can survive with predators lurking behind every corner.  Once the turtles have grown some and their shells harden, they are virtually predator free.  Thank goodness after the adventurous beginning they endure!

We have been fortunate here on the farm to watch this reproductive ritual take place.

Before I leave you, I want to share some interesting facts about snapping turtles...
  1. Their sex is determined by incubation temperature.  Eggs generally need to incubate at around 80 degrees to produce both males and females.  If its incubated cooler, they tend to produce only males and warmer temperatures produce only females.
  2. Snapping turtles out of water are females looking to nest.  Please leave them be.  If you want to help them across the road to avoid danger, make sure you move them in the direction they were headed.  They are stubborn and will turn right back onto the road if you do otherwise.
  3. Never pick a snapper up by the tail.  You can cause serious damage to its spine.  Always hold it by it's shell and support it's weight as much as possible.

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