It's a "Snap" to raise turtles: Local family watches a miracle of Nature in their own back yard
By Ken Johnston
Who said raising turtles is a snap?
Imagine walking out your back door and nearly stepping on a turtle snapping its jaws at you! That is what Shannon Hagarty of Rainy River did on June 16th this summer!
A Common Snapping Turtle was in her yard at 104 Second St. “I went to go out to the garbage and noticed something out of the corner of my eye so I stopped going down the steps. It was a good thing because the snapping turtle was at the bottom of the steps.”
She returned to the house and brought her daughter Taya back to see it. “We noticed that the turtle was all covered in dirt. We assumed it was from the big dirt pile that we have in the back yard,” said Shannon. However, upon inspection of the pile they could not find where it might have been disturbed.
Searching the yard they discovered a spot in the family flower bed where they thought it might have been dug up and possibly the turtle had laid eggs. It had not damaged any of the flowers so they decided to just leave the spot and keep an eye on it.
After some research on the internet, they learned that it takes 9-18 weeks for the eggs to hatch but that it can happen as early as six weeks. “We marked the date on the calendar... and for the first few weeks we could check the spot on a regular basis, but by September we thought the turtle had not laid any eggs.”
According to the website borealforest.org, the Common Snapping Turtle is primarily found in the southern and western areas of Northwestern Ontario wherever there is permanent water. Borealforest.org also said it is common for the mother turtle to lay its eggs in June, usually selecting sandy areas to dig nests, such as riverbanks, shoulders of roads, driveways and even lawns. Up to 30 eggs are usually laid and then covered with soil. However, a high percentage of nests are destroyed by predators.
Temperatures during incubation determines the sex of hatchling turtles. Lower temps. produce mainly males and higher more females.
Having given up on the suspected nest, the Hagarty’s moved on, and stopped checking the spot in the garden. Then on September 23rd Shannon noticed something in the yard. “I was outside and noticed something black moving in the grass...I went and looked and noticed that it was a baby turtle.” She immediately went to where, just over 14 weeks before, they thought the snapper had laid eggs.
“There was a little hole in the ground that the turtles were coming out of. It was a steady stream of them, one right after the other!” She called Taya and also her niece, Brin, nephew Seamus and a neighbour kid, Lara, to come and watch.
“Watching them, you could see them almost push each other out! The one behind the leader would stretch its neck out, pushing the other one ahead of it out,” said Shannon. They would pause once their head was out of the hole to wipe their eyes. “I am assuming to get the dirt off, but it also seemed like the daylight was too much for them!” After about 30 seconds they would move out and away from the hole. “The majority of them seemed to know which way the water was and headed in that direction. With my house being quite a ways from the water (about half a block) and all the traffic (up and down the street to the 2nd St. boat ramp) from the fishermen pre-fishing for the walleye tournament, we decided to keep them all contained and then bring them to the river and let them go.”
Well there seemed to be an unending stream of them. While borealforest.org said they can lay up to 30 eggs, the count was up to nearly 50 by the time it stopped. “We had all the turtles on a big lid...brought them to the beach area of the park and placed them in the sand. Right away they started heading towards the water.”
Once in the water they would float for a bit and then eventually swam away. Once they were all gone, they returned home and kept an eye on the nest. About 10 more hatched and they took them to the river as well.
The next day Shannon noticed that animals had been digging at the hole so she decided to carefully dig the nest up. “The eggs were a good 30 cm from the surface. There were still a few eggs that hadn’t hatched, (so) we put those in a container. After a short period we noticed a baby turtle in with the eggs.” They watched for a while and were able to see some of them hatch. “They use the sharp tooth on their nose to cut through the egg. Once they have (it) open they slowly stretch and kick the egg off them.”
Shannon said when they have emerged from the egg their turtle shell is kind of cone shaped. Then in time it flattens out as they stretch and move. “It took about five minutes before they started moving. But once they have their shells flattened out they instinctively start moving towards water.”
They watched four more hatch from the eggs and took all of them to the river. “In all there were over 60 turtles hatched! It was a great experience for both me and the kids.”
Hagarty said that while this is the first time she is aware of the turtles nesting in their yard, she has read that turtles will return year after year to nest. “So maybe next year we will be able to experience this again!”