by Dave Seburn
Snapping Turtles will never win any prizes for parenting. Females nest by digging a hole in the ground and depositing their eggs in it. They cover the hole and return to the wetland, maternal duties finished. Many of those nests will be dug up by Raccoons or Skunks looking for an easy meal. Some will beat the odds and the eggs will hatch in late summer (typically late August or September).
The hatchlings, little more than the size of a loonie, are on their own. First, they must dig their way to the surface. Then, they head out from the nest, seeking shelter and water. At Mud Lake, in the Britannia Conservation Area, the hatchlings usually head for the lake.
Many Snapping Turtles nest near the filtration plant at the north end of Mud Lake (photo below). Hatchlings from nests laid between the lake and the service road are usually safe if they head straight to the lake. However, when nests are north of the service road, hatchlings have an almost impossible trek ahead of them. When they head south toward the lake they encounter the road, which has steep curbs.
The tiny turtles can easily tumble down the curb onto the road. They may even survive the trek across the hot pavement to the far side. However, they can’t climb up the south curb to continue their journey to the lake. Typically those hatchlings die on the road. They may get run over by a car or die from dehydration on a hot day.Members of the OFNC’s Conservation Committee have met with city staff to discuss this ongoing threat to the Snapping Turtles at Mud Lake. The city is looking into possible solutions and, hopefully, by the fall 2016 the hatchling Snapping Turtles will have an easier trek to the lake.
But for this season, the fate of the hatchlings will depend on the good will of humans. If you happen to be at Mud Lake this month, take a few minutes to check out the road to the filtration plant. Hatchlings can often be found up against the curb on the south side of the road, although they may be anywhere on the road. They are dark in colour and stand out from the gray of the road, but their small size makes them hard to spot, especially if they are not moving. If you find a hatchling Snapping Turtle on the road, move it toward Mud Lake. Hatchlings will not bite and there is no danger in handling them. You can pick up a hatchling with your hand – just be careful not to drop it. Sunscreen on your hands is not likely a problem. Insect repellant may be absorbed by the hatchlings, but the risk from that is far less than certain death on the road.
There is no need to find the perfect spot to release a hatchling. Take it to the closest spot along Mud Lake that you can easily access. I usually release hatchlings 15 cm (6 inches) or more from water to give them a choice as to where they go. They may choose to hide under a small plant or scamper straight into the water.
If you rescue any hatchlings at Mud Lake, please report the number of turtles you moved and the date to davidseburn at sympatico.ca. On behalf of the turtles, a big thank you for any help you can provide.
September 3: The following photos were posted to our OFNC Facebook group by rescuers Elena Kreuzberg and Kevin O’Shaughnessy. Staff from the filtration plant are also monitoring the situation and moving tiny turtles toward the lake as they find them. Thanks, guys!!
September 5: More rescues, more people searching. Thanks, everyone!!
September 8: Four saved, three dead
September 20: OFNC excursion to Mud Lake. No turtles seen, but 2 successful nests located.
September 22: Over 30 guided to water by Tamara Bloom.