Here at the Land Between Charity, a.k.a. Turtle Guardians head quarters, we have welcomed our first baby turtles, “hatchlings”!! The first babies to hatch in our incubator were three Painted Turtle on August 7th. Since then we have welcomed some more Painted Turtles, many Snapping Turtles and some precious Blanding’s Turtles. Here are some photos of our hatchlings:
Where did all these eggs come from? Earlier this year in June, the Land Between / Turtle Guardians staff were very busy patrolling the roads of Haliburton Country and Peterborough for nesting turtles. When we were lucky enough to find nests far off the road and road shoulder, we could install wire nest protector cages to keep them safe from hungry predators like skunks and racoons. However, most of the nests we found were laid close to the road and road shoulder, and in these cases we carefully dug up the eggs to incubate them over the summer and release them after hatching. When nests are too close to the road, nest protector cages can’t be used because a vehicle could drive over it and get damaged.
We were very lucky to get special training and then permission from OMNR and OMECP to carry out our nest excavations and egg incubation this summer. It is illegal to dig up turtle eggs of any species in Ontario without a government issued permit.
Our staff went through special training from our partners at Scales Nature Park for how to safely dig up eggs, transport them, and care for them during incubation and after hatching. In total we had 960 eggs in our incubator this summer and another 100 Blanding’s Turtle eggs that we excavated were incubated by our partners at Scales Nature Park.
When a turtle first starts to break out of its shell, we say that it is “pipping.” The baby will use its egg tooth to repeatedly peck the egg, and often the first body part to emerge or be visible will be the babies head. So far, we have noticed that this process can take up to 2 days before the hatchling completely emerges from its shell! When they first emerge from the shell they will have their yolk sacs still very visible on their plastrons (belly shell). You can think of their yolk sac sort of like their belly button. This is the place where the growing turtle embryo was attached to the shell when it was still in its egg. We give all our turtle babies the chance to absorb their yolk sacs before releasing them back to the wild. This gives them the chance to gain the nutrients from its yolk, and will make it easier for them to swim and travel when released back into nature.
Hatchlings are always released back in the area where we originally found their nest. We look for the closest shallow water body or wetland with lots of aquatic vegetation and slow or no water flow as the babies are not yet strong swimmers. We will space out the babies so they are not all in one spot and easy for a predator to come and gobble up.
What should you do if you find a hatchling?
Hatchlings from wild nests typically emerge at the end of August and all throughout September – so we could start to see them anytime. If you are lucky enough to find a hatchling you should bring it to the nearest wetland or shallow waterbody. In the case of hatchlings, the rule that applies to other turtles of always moving them in the direction they were travelling does not apply. This is because they have not yet created their mental maps and do not know where they are going. However, to keep populations healthy, and because it is likely that hatchlings have a mental imprint of their nesting site, they should be kept in nature and within 200 metres of where they are found. To give a hatchling its best chance it isn’t enough to simply move them off the road. They are so vulnerable to predation at their small size and can get dehydrated really easily, especially on pavement in the heat of the day. So, it is critical that they are moved to the nearest shallow water amongst lots of aquatic vegetation where they can easily hide and find things to eat. In no way should a hatchling be taken home as a pet as this is illegal, and also taking them out of nature for long periods or away from their native territory may result in difficulty of surviving in nature when reintroduced. Also take pictures and locational information and let us know to help us track populations. But be careful of sharing locations with the public at large because hatchling poaching is on the rise in Ontario. Each turtle and each hatchling in nature gives us hope for the future. Turtles have irreplaceable roles in maintaining biodiversity and all the flora and fauna found in our lakes and wetlands. Be turtley cool and save turtles.