The majority of turtles hit by cars in the in the spring and early summer are adult females on their way to nest. This means that many of the females that are admitted to the KTTC are “gravid”, or carrying eggs. Many of the patients drop their eggs during their stay with us. Weplace artificial nesting boxes filled with sand in their enclosures to make this experience more comfortable for them.
At the moment we are incubating over 160 eggs from Snapping Turtles, Blanding’s Turtles, and Painted Turtles. Many of these were laid by patients that are still in our care. However 11 of these clutches are from turtles that didn’t survive their injuries. The hatchlings from these eggs will be released at the very same location that the the adult was originally found.
We’re often asked what turtle eggs look like. Snapping Turtle eggs (above) are spherical, about the size of a ping pong ball. The eggs of Blanding’s Turtles or Painted Turtles (right) are more elongated.
Turtles do not sit on their nests or care for their young, so babies that we hatch at the centre do not need their parents to raise them. Most eggs in the wild are dug up within days of being laid by hungry raccoons, coyotes, or other predators. The eggs we hatch at the centre have a bit of a “head start” by being protected while they incubate.
In the wild, the mother turtle comes to land in the spring or early summer and digs a hole in a sunny spot. As the eggs are laid she uses her back legs to carefully place them one by one in the nest. When she’s done she fills the hole back in and heads back to the water, and never sees her babies again. The eggs are incubated over the next 2-3 months by warmth of the sun. In late summer or early fall the eggs hatch and the babies dig their way out of the nest and find their way back to the water. Painted Turtles hatchlings sometimes spend their first winter in the nest, and can often be seen on their way to the water early the following spring.
You’ll never see the eggs of a nest that is safely incubating, though at this time of year especially you may come across the remains of a nest that has been dug up by hungry predators. If you come across a nest that has been predated you will often find bits of shrivelled up shell scattered around the nest (below).
We sometimes hear of well-meaning individuals who dig up nests and relocate them, or attempt to incubate them at home. We would like to remind you that wild animals cannot be taken into captivity (even as embryos tucked inside an egg) without a license. If you come across eggs that have been dug up accidentally (as sometimes happens when landscaping) please replace the eggs or contact your nearest licensed wildlife rehabilitator to ensure that the eggs are properly cared for and have the greatest chance of hatching successfully.