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Turtle Nests

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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Painted Turtles Laying Eggs

Painted Turtles have been engaging in intricate, underwater courtship (consisting of mutual stroking) and mating since March or April. Females can store sperm for several months, enabling them to delay egg-laying, as well as to lay several clutches of eggs.  Nesting activity peaks in June and early July, when females leave their ponds to dig holes in sandy soil and gravel (lower left photo) in which they deposit 3 – 15 oval, white eggs.  Note in the lower right photo, taken after the turtle had departed, that the turtle buries her eggs and tamps down the earth so effectively it’s hard to detect that the ground has been disturbed.

In August or September Painted Turtle eggs hatch and most of the young turtles head to nearby ponds. Occasionally, in northern New England, the young overwinter in the nest and emerge the following spring. (Photos by Jody Crosby)

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