Every fall, roughly 3 months after they’re laid, snapping turtle eggs hatch. The hatchlings’ gender is determined by the temperature at which they were incubated during the summer. In some locations, they emerge from the nest in hours or days, and in others they remain in the nest through the winter. When they emerge above ground, the hatchlings often do so within a few hours of each other. Somehow (questions remain as to exactly how) they navigate to the nearest body of water, which can be up to a quarter of a mile away, and once there, seek shallow water . Look for young hatchlings in small brooks near ponds that are known to have adult snappers. (White object is part of the egg shell that surfaced with this hatchling.)
You can often tell whether a snake is active in the day (diurnal) or during the night (nocturnal) by looking at its eyes. Diurnal snakes, such as the pictured Common Gartersnake, typically have round pupils and moderate-sized eyes. Many nocturnal snakes have large eyes and many also have vertical, elliptical pupils. A round pupil is able to close tightly to a pinpoint opening, allowing a minimum amount of light to enter the eye on very bright days. In contrast, a vertical pupil can open wider than a round pupil to allow more light to enter the eye, a useful adaptation for night vision.
It’s pretty difficult to determine the sex of a Painted Turtle unless you’re extremely close to it, and they are so wary when basking that it takes some maneuvering to get a bird’s eye view of one. If you should be so lucky as to approach a Painted Turtle without having it slip into the water long before you get near it, take a look at the nails, or claws, on its front feet. Males have long claws, female short. The male uses his long claws to stroke the female’s head and neck during courtship, as well as to hold on to the female’s shell when they mate. When trying to determine the gender of a Painted Turtle, it helps when you find the two sexes together, as you can easily compare the relative length of their claws. In the photograph, the male Painted Turtle is on the left, female on the right.
Many snakes, including this Common Gartersnake, use smell to track their prey. In the roof of a snake’s mouth are two openings, called the vomeronasal organ, also known as Jacobson’s organ. Snakes smell by sticking their forked tongue in the air, keeping it constantly moving while they collect particles (mostly pheromones) on it from the ground, air and water. Next they pull their tongue back into their mouth and insert it into their Jacobson’s organ (one fork in each opening). Then the particles are analyzed and the snake determines whether prey or a predator is in the vicinity.
A hole 4” – 5” deep surrounded by scattered empty, dried up eggshells is a telltale sign of turtle nest predation. A painted turtle (judging from the size, depth and location of the nest) dug a hole in the bank of a beaver pond last summer and proceeded to lay roughly a dozen or more eggs in it. After covering the eggs with soil, the turtle returned to her pond. The eggs hatched in August or September. Sometimes young turtles immediately climb up through the earth and emerge above ground, but occasionally, this far north, they overwinter in their underground nest and emerge in the spring. A raccoon, fox or skunk discovered this painted turtle nest early this spring (the digging was fresh) and one can only hope that by the time the nest was raided, the young had already exited and headed for the nearby pond. Research has found that a very small percentage of turtle nests avoid detection by a predator.
After spending several months hibernating in the mud at the bottom of ponds, painted turtles are out, basking in the sun. Because they are ectothermic, or cold-blooded, they are the same temperature as the air around them. In order to warm up and also to properly digest their food, painted turtles bask in the sun, and there is great competition for safe basking locations, such as rocks and floating logs. When these ideal basking sites are limited, the turtles will pile up one on top of the other, staying that way until the bottom turtle gets good and tired of supporting the turtles on top of it, and wobbles enough to make the turtle tower tumble.
Most species of snakes lay eggs (oviparous), but some give birth to live young (viviparous), including the common gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis). Gartersnakes are born at this time of year, and are on their own from the moment of birth. The greatest number of gartersnakes to be born in a single litter is 98, but 14 – 40 is more typical. The common gartersnake in the accompanying photograph is a newborn, measuring 6 inches in length.