It’s turtle laying season (not turtle taking-home season)

Date Published: 
July 14, 2017

Coastal Point • Stock Photo: An Eastern Painted Turtle.Coastal Point • Stock Photo: An Eastern Painted Turtle.

I was very fortunate in late May: I found an Eastern painted turtle just finishing laying her eggs. She was one of the numerous turtles that live in our pond in our back yard. She had come up the embankment and dug herself a small hole and then laid her eggs, covered them with a mudlike mixture, and then off she went, back to the pond.

I have marked the location of the nest so we can monitor them. Last year — I actually think it was the same female — had her eggs eaten within two days. Something ate several of them the first night, and the rest were destroyed the second night.

This year, I decided I would try to protect them from predators. Supposedly, you can build a “cage” of chicken wire about 2 feet square and place it over the nest. This protects the eggs from most predators but still allows the hatchlings to escape. So far, nothing has come and disturbed the eggs this year. So, hopefully, in July or August they will hatch.

Most turtle hatchlings, unfortunately, don’t make it. And many more eggs never have the chance to hatch. Either the eggs are not fertile, are destroyed or eaten by predators, or they just don’t get the correct environment to hatch.

An average sexually mature female slider will lay from two to 20 eggs. It takes from 45 to 90 days for the eggs to hatch. Temperature, humidity and rainfall are all factors that can affect the eggs.

Also, the temperature also will determine the sex of the hatchlings. If the temps generally stay above 86 degrees, they will be females. If the temperatures stay at 81 degrees or below, they will hatch as males. If there is a wide mix of the temps, it will produce a mix of sexes.

It also may take the baby turtle a day or two to actually hatch out of the egg. During this time, the baby is even more exposed to predators. It then takes the females six to 16 years to reach sexually maturity and be able to start reproducing, with very few making it that long. Males reach sexual maturity in two to nine years.

Painted turtles and coots are two of the more common native species in Delaware. Red-eared sliders are not native to Delaware and are actually an invasive species. It is actually on the world’s 100 most-invasive species list published by IUCN.

It has become an invasive species, competing with our local wildlife, due to the pet trade. These turtles were sold as hatchlings, about the size of a quarter, in the 1950s to 1970s. They were sold in pet stores, 5&10 stores, tourist areas and more. The hatchlings were placed in a little fish bowl, with a little plastic palm tree, and marketed well.

Many of these hatchlings died, but many were released in the wild as they grew or as people became bored of them. Now, they compete with our native species for food and habitat. Several of our native turtles are in serious danger, and some are even in threatened status.

There are laws regulating the possession of turtles as pets in Delaware.

Many people think, “I’ll just take the turtle home for a while, and then let it go later.”
Well, outside of the laws involved, taking a turtle from its environment is not good. If you do take a turtle “for a while” it must be replaced exactly where you took it from — especially box turtles! Box turtles have a relatively small living environment, maybe up to 2 acres.

If you were to take a box turtle from one area and then let it go elsewhere, that poor turtle will be forever trying to find its way back home, and they are not very good at it. Usually, they will get killed trying to get home. If the turtle is crossing the street, please stop, move it off of the road in the direction it was traveling and then leave it there.

Water turtles are a little more flexible, but they are still sometimes choosy about where they want to live. It is best to just admire them where they are and leave them there for others to enjoy.

If you would like to attract them to your yard, build a pond. It would need to be designed with the turtle’s wellbeing in mind, and not every pond installation company will know how to do that. For one thing, it would need a mud bottom of some depth, because that is where they brumate during the winter months.

It will need slow moving water, basking spots and pond vegetation.

Turtles will also eat your pond fish. If the pond is large enough and has plenty of vegetation, it is possible for both to survive, but I personally wouldn’t put any valuable and pricey fish in the same pond with turtles. Turtles will also eat small frogs. However, they also will eat bugs and bug larvae.

So, you design and build a pond for turtles, so where do you get the turtles for it? Generally, if you build it, they will come, whether you want them or not. Of course, if you want them, it will probably be a slower process to just wait them out naturally.

You can ask your pond designer/installer/maintenance person. They probably have other customers who don’t want the turtles that have found them. You can ask around at the local pet stores if they know of anyone wanting to re-home a turtle.

But generally, if it is built to a turtle’s liking and well-stocked with fish and plants, it will only take one, maybe two seasons for those turtles to find you (unless you live in the city). So, be patient and enjoy the fish and the frogs while you can, before the turtles come and eat them.

Remember, if you see a turtle in the wild, leave it in the wild. Watch after rains for turtles out and about and crossing our roads. If you see one crossing the road, please, stop and help it continue on its way, by placing it just off the roadway in the direction it was traveling. Do not try to find it a better place. Do not take it home with you. Leave them in the wild for future generations to enjoy.

Also, watch during July and August for those new hatchlings. If you happen to see several little hatchlings, try to backtrack and see if you can find where the eggs were laid. If you can, mark that spot and watch the location next year in May and you might also have the opportunity to see a turtle laying her eggs. Many turtles return year after year to the same general area to lay their eggs.

Cheryl Loveland is a semi-retired dog groomer. She currently resides in Millsboro with two bloodhounds, a bichon frisée, two cats, a scarlet macaw, two tree frogs, a leopard frog and a lizard, and a stray cat that has recently moved in and adopted her. Also living on the property are her daughters family’s pets and livestock, including two dogs, a guinea pig, a turtle, a tank of fish, three ducks and numerous chickens and rabbits. She is a member of Colonial Bloodhound Club and secretary for the Mispillion Kennel Club. She is currently retired from rescue work due to her desire to do some traveling. She has been working with all types of animals all of her life. She may be reached at countryservice@comcast.net.