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.
by Ian Whyte
On 10 September, I attended an OFNC birding outing at Mud Lake. Because I’ve found Snapping Turtle hatchlings trapped on the road by the filtration plant in previous years, I checked that location on my way home. The road in front of the filtration plant can be a death trap for hatchlings because of the curb. Hatchlings that try to cross the road cannot climb over the curb to get to the lake.
I found six hatchlings that day: three headed toward the lake as fast as a hatchling can and three awaiting death on the road – from exhaustion, a car or a Canada Goose. I put two of these at the lake’s edge. One was visible only through binoculars behind the fence (the door to the building was locked so I could not gain access). The next day, I found six more turtles: four were dead on the road, flattened, and two alive ones were set by the lakeside.
So, out of twelve turtles found, four were already dead, one has no future, four were rescued, and three were all right on their own.
May I ask that any OFNC member who goes to Mud Lake from now until mid-November please also take a minute to check for trapped hatchlings on the road in front of the filtration plant? The part of the road from the collection of old chairs to the fence across the road in front of the filtration plant is where checking is needed. Please put live turtles at the edge of the lake. I’d appreciate it if you emailed me with the details if you do this: firstname.lastname@example.org