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Painted Turtles Laying Eggs

The courtship of Painted Turtles begins shortly after they emerge from hibernation in April and May.  It is quite an elaborate process, with the male swimming in front of the female and rapidly vibrating his long toenails along her head.  Mating follows and a month or two later females look for terrestrial nesting sites, often late on a rainy afternoon. 

Frequently the female will dig several “false” nests before depositing her half a dozen or so eggs in a nest. After carefully covering her eggs with soil and leaving the ground looking relatively undisturbed, she returns to her pond, providing no care for her offspring. 

Painted Turtle eggs hatch in the fall.  In the Northeast some young Painted Turtles emerge above ground shortly after hatching, while others remain in the nest and don’t dig their way out until the following spring. (Turtles from the same nest can emerge at different times.) Those turtles emerging in the fall usually have an egg tooth and a fresh yolk sac scar; those that overwinter and emerge in the spring lack both of these. (Thanks to Jody Crosby for photo op.)

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14 responses

  1. Alice

    What a beautiful big turtle. Is there any way of telling how old a turtle is?

    June 7, 2021 at 8:17 am

    • Alice

      I just looked that up, but am not sure what the rings on the scutes are in the drawing.

      June 7, 2021 at 8:23 am

  2. Bill on the Hill

    I briefly had a 14+ year old wood turtle I had observed for a week or so & then released it into the body of water for which it was heading whilst it was in the middle of the dirt road below my property. Turtle rings work similar to tree rings in determining age. This turtle was missing it’s LF claw & RR claw in their entirety, however it walked & swam with very little difficulty… ( The work of Raccoons I suspect. )
    In closing, there is nothing like a good head scratch from time to time…
    Bill… :~)

    June 7, 2021 at 8:40 am

  3. I can’t believe some winter over! How do they survive with out food? Wow what a great picture! You are amazing! Love, Kay

    Sent from my iPhone


    June 7, 2021 at 8:44 am

    • Hi Kay,
      Turtles can lower their metabolism WAY down when they hibernate. They need little oxygen and little food. Hard to imagine!

      June 7, 2021 at 5:57 pm

  4. What a beautiful photo! And what a wonderful mental image of “rapidly vibrating… long toenails along her head” – not a lot of options for “skin-to-skin” contact from within those protective carapaces. BUT… how the heck do they mate? (Sorry for the indelicate question, but it seems practically impossible!
    And then, as I was imagining the baby turtles emerging from their eggs, I wondered if their egg shells have stayed flexible, or if they harden over time? It occurs to me that flexibility would be very helpful to accommodate the inflexible shell that somehow has to fit inside. But then how does the egg tooth break the shell?

    June 7, 2021 at 9:12 am

    • Alice

      I’ve seen snappers mating, in a small pond, they seemed to roll around like a ball.

      June 7, 2021 at 9:21 am

      • Interesting. My goodness. Are they somehow able to hold onto each other? I guess they must…

        June 7, 2021 at 9:24 am

    • Hi Dell,
      Once exposed to the air (such as those dug up by raccoons, etc.) the once leathery shells do dry up and become hard. The egg tooth is sharp enough to cut the leathery shell.

      June 7, 2021 at 5:56 pm

      • Interesting. Thanks, Mary!

        June 8, 2021 at 12:22 am

  5. I haven’t seen a painted turtle since I was a child and wonder if they are diminishing?

    June 7, 2021 at 9:21 am

    • I believe their population is very stable.

      June 7, 2021 at 5:54 pm

  6. Does the sex of the young depend on the temperature of the nest? I know that is a problem with sea turtles due to warming – the eggs that develop in thew warmest places all turn into males.

    June 7, 2021 at 10:32 am

    • Yes, Kathie, I believe the sex of most turtles is affected by the temperature of the soil they are incubated in. Not positive about painteds, but think so. Definitely snappers.

      June 7, 2021 at 5:53 pm

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