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Snapping Turtles Laying Eggs

6-19-17 snapping turtle laying eggs2 309In June,  mature female Snapping Turtles leave their ponds in search of a sandy spot in which to lay their eggs. (Capable of storing viable sperm for up to three years, female snappers do not necessarily mate every year prior to laying eggs.) Once this prehistoric-looking reptile locates a suitable location she slowly scoops one footful of earth at a time up and to the rear of her, alternating her left and right hind feet. If the soil is dry and tightly packed, she will urinate on it in order to facilitate digging.

Hole made, she proceeds to slowly lift her body and release ping pong ball-sized, -colored and -shaped eggs, usually one at a time, but occasionally two, into the hole beneath her. Down she comes for a minute or two of rest, and then up she rises again to release another egg. She does this anywhere from 20 to 40 times, a process that can take up to several hours, depending on the number of eggs she lays. Then her large, clawed hind feet slowly begin to scrape the two piles of soil she removed back into the hole, one foot at a time, until the eggs are covered, at which point she tamps the soil down with her plastron, or bottom shell. She then returns to the water, leaving the eggs and hatchlings to fend for themselves.

It is hard to accept that after all the effort that has been put into this act, studies have shown that 90 percent or more of turtle nests are raided by the likes of raccoons, skunks and crows. For those nests that are not discovered by predators, the sex of the turtle that emerges from each egg is determined by the temperature it attained during a specific part of its development. Eggs maintained during this period at 68°F produce only females; eggs maintained at 70-72°F produce both male and female turtles, and those incubated at 73-75°F produce only males. The eggs hatch in September, with many of the Snapping Turtles emerging then, but in the northern part of their range, young Snapping Turtles sometimes overwinter in their nest and emerge in the spring. (Thanks to Chiho Kaneko and Jeffrey Hamelman for photo op.)

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12 responses

  1. Alice Pratt

    With all the watery areas near us and a good deal of varied wildlife, it is sad to see raided nests with broken and dried up eggshells. The food chain.

    June 19, 2017 at 7:37 am

  2. Is there any way to protect a nest that is perhaps one inch away from the road pavement? I watched a snapper lay and cover her eggs there. I know exactly where it is and have photos. And I worry. I didn’t know they didn’t hatch until September (even though we’ve had snapper babies here at home). So now I’m doubly worried.

    June 19, 2017 at 7:49 am

    • That’s a hard one, Andree. You could try surrounding the spot with a mini chicken wire fence, and flagging it, but that’s no guarantee that it won’t be run over repeatedly. Chances are a predator will find it long before a car does, or September arrives…I guess I’d let nature take its course though if you felt like intervening, it is possible to dig up the eggs and put them in a container of damp sand and see if anything emerges in three months…

      June 19, 2017 at 8:53 am

      • Oh my. You’ve got me thinking now . . .

        June 19, 2017 at 9:10 am


        I think I have to do it but it is a huge enterprise. (“abandoned” eggs? LOL)

        June 19, 2017 at 9:49 am

      • Andree, they make it sound much harder than it is…I put some painted turtle eggs in a plastic tub of damp sand, except for occasional dampening of sand I forgot about them for several months, and was alerted to their birth by the incessant barking of our basset hound as the young turtles crawled around our kitchen floor! Good luck!

        June 19, 2017 at 10:44 am

  3. This is the time turtles cross roads. If possible, we stop and escort one across road to safety. Always heart-breaking to see the ones that don’t make it. 😦 I have a soft spot in my heart for turtles!

    June 19, 2017 at 8:00 am

    • Yes, Eliza, I should have mentioned escorting them or carrying them across the road in the direction they were headed. Even snappers can be safely picked up by grasping their shell above their hind legs, as their head can’t reach back that far, which I’m sure you know!

      June 19, 2017 at 8:49 am

      • They all hiss annoyingly, but it is for their own good!

        June 19, 2017 at 7:47 pm

      • April

        I have chased turtle, including a huge snapping turtle across the street to safety by standing behind it, stomping and yelling. It made fast tracks to the other side. I admit I was too scared to pick it up.

        June 19, 2017 at 9:16 pm

  4. Thanks for the interesting notes and photo on snappers this morning Mary – really helps me better understand the life cycle of these incredible reptiles and things I’ve been seeing locally in PA! 🙂 Craig

    June 19, 2017 at 9:06 am

  5. Joe Lopes

    Don’t care much for snappers! We live in Massachusetts right on the Agawam River so we see these big turtles a lot: Coming out of the mud flats where they hibernate; Mating (which is a real treat! Looks much like a fight!); Coming in to our yard to lay eggs; Eggs hatching and dozens of babies scurrying to the water; And many not making it because the crows eat them! First year in this location, we collected the babies in a kiddie pool for our grandkids to enjoy for a few days. I think we had 30 or more! Each day there were fewer and fewer. We couldn’t figure how they were escaping…..Then we saw the crows dropping by for easy pickings! We never did that again! Unfortunately these turtles do a number on baby ducks, geese and swans also. Guess that is the food chain and nature. Thanks for your posts!!

    June 19, 2017 at 9:10 am

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