Posting by Caroline Seitz
This past weekend was invasion of the snapping turtle time. Mama snappers left the comfort of their wet homes to invade suburban yards to lay their eggs. So, here at Reptiles Alive, we got a ton of calls from people concerned about the turtles and wanting to know what to do.
“There is a snapping turtle laying eggs in my yard – what should I do?”
Well, the short answer is, nothing. If you leave the mama snapper alone, she will simply lay her eggs and leave. The mama turtle will not guard her nest or take care of the babies. If and when the eggs hatch, the babies will go on their way.
The long answer:
Snapping turtles spend most of their lives at the bottom of ponds, lakes, and rivers. They eat carrion, fish, and other creatures that get too close to their powerful jaws.
In the Mid-Atlantic region, female snapping turtles will leave the water to lay their eggs in late May and early June. The female turtles may walk a mile or more away from the water to find a suitable nesting site. Once she finds a good spot, she will dig a hole with her back legs. She might dig multiple holes before laying and she might lay eggs in multiple nests – so just because you see a turtle digging a hole in your yard does not neccessarily mean there will be eggs buried there.
After laying the eggs, the turtle may hang around for a day or so because she is tired, but she will soon leave. Like most reptiles, turtles do not care for their young or protect their eggs. The female will simply abandon the nest and head back to her watery home.
Most of the eggs laid by turtles will never hatch. Many of the eggs are predated upon by raccoons, foxes, and insects. Some of the eggs may be infertile. So, if a turtle has laid eggs in your yard, the eggs may never hatch at all.
Some people ask if they can dig up the eggs and re-bury them in a “better” spot. This is NOT a good idea. If reptile eggs are moved or rolled, the embryos inside the egg can die. Also, the female turtle instinctively knows the right depth, temperature, moisture level, etc… that the eggs need for proper development. If you dig a hole and “plant” the eggs, they will almost certainly die. If you feel you must re-locate the eggs, the best chance the eggs will have is for you to artificially incubate them. There is a good article about turtle egg incubation at http://www.gctts.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Public/CaringForChelonianEggs
If the eggs do hatch, the quarter size babies will usually scatter away from the nest and head for the nearest body of water. If you have artificially incubated the eggs, you need to release the babies in a pond or other slow moving body of water as close the original nesting site as possible. Do not attempt to feed the babies or keep the babies for any length of time. Release them immediately.
If the babies are very lucky, they can live up to around 30 years or more and grow from a tiny quarter size to giant 20 pound turtle.