Last June, Ellen Lambeth and Greg Hudson, fellow staffers here at National Wildlife Federation who work on
Ranger Rick magazine,Phad a pretty awesome wildlife sighting. While Ellen wasPheading to the compost binPat the back ofPNWF s headquarters landscape to deposit foodPscraps and coffee grounds, she spotted a female. PSeeing box turtles isn t all that uncommon here, since the property is a and also abuts a large regional park complete with hundreds of acres of woodland, the preferred habitat for this species. It was WHAT the turtlePwas doing that made the sighting rare and fascinating; shePwas digging a nest to lay herPeggs! While dropping off my compost this morning, I came across this sweet, good-sized box turtle: And what was she doing? P Digging a nest for her eggs! P Just like a sea turtle, she paddled each hind leg in turn down the hole, bringing up a bit of dirt with each scoop. I was hoping to see some eggs drop in but decided she neededPher privacy and a restored sense of security. By the time I returned to check, she had carefully covered the hole and disappeared back into the woods. Her task had been doneno child-rearing hassles for her! I m posting this now because very soon, those baby turtles will be hatching and emerging out into the landscape. This is a natural event that will be happening across the country for many turtle species. August is baby turtle season!
Ellen noted that the spot the box turtle chose to dig her nest was in an exposed area not too far from the dumpsters in our parking lot, which is regularly patrolled by, skunks and looking for a free meal. SincePmany turtle nests are predated by suchPgeneralist mammalian predators, she was worried the eggs wouldn t stand a chance. Recognizing that predators need to eat too and that we try not to interfere in nature, but also that box turtles are on the decline due to habitat loss, while raccoons, skunks and opossums aren t, it was decided that helping out in this instance would be ok. So EllenPcontacted NWF s building manager Steve Johnsen, and together they came up with a solution: they placed a wire basket over top of the nest area and weighted it down with a heavy rock. PThis basket cagePshould keep foraging mammals from being able to dig into the nest and also protect the babies as they emerge. PThe wire basket bars are wide enough apart that tiny hatchling box turtles will easily be able to fit between them. PAfter that, they are on their own, just as they otherwise would be in nature. Female turtles do not care for their young, which are fully equipped to hunt and forage for themselves. Saving baby turtles, all in a day s work for us here at NWF! Baby turtles make easy prey for a whole variety of predators from raccoons and skunks to crows and even bullfrogs.
For terrestrial species such as box turtles, wood turtles, and, make sure your garden has plenty of vegetation to. as hiding places both for adult and hatchlingPturtles. Sink a shallow dish into the garden soil as a place where young turtles can soak and get a quick drink. A placed directly on the ground, or even the drainage dish from a flower pot work great. Just make sure the sides aren t too vertical or turtles can climb in and not out. Adding some pebbles to create a shallow end or a piece of tree bark to act as an exit platform are good ideas. If you re lucky enough to live adjacent to a pond, lake, river or otherPwetland inhabited by aquatic turtle species such as, spotted, mud, musk, map, yellow-bellied and red-bellied turtles, the various slider,P and species, or even Pthe that lives in brackish coastal wetlands, be sure to provide plenty of aquatic vegetation in and around the water to give young of these species hiding places. If you live in coastal areas where sea turtles nest, be sure to keep your lights off at night during hatching season. The lights disorient and cause them to head inland instead of out into the ocean. PThe shell of a baby turtle is no match for the sharp teeth of a domestic cat. Look before you mow! Do a quick scanPof your lawn area before starting the engine to look for baby (or adult) turtles and other small wildlife that cannot outrun your mower.
The extra effort will be worth it to avoid a wildlife disaster under the mower blades. These might hurt baby turtles directly, or kill off the insects and other invertebrates that make up a large portion of the diet of many species when they are hatchlings. Want to make the most out of gardening, and help wildlife? P Pwith the National Wildlife Federation. Its free and youll get great wildlife gardening tips and learn how to certify your yard as an official habitat. If you keep your turtle in an outdoor enclosure, youвll need to take measures to protect the nest from predators and keep the babies from escaping once they hatch. A simple way to do this is to cover the nest with wire mesh. If you have an indoor turtle who lays eggs in her terrarium, you will need to remove the eggs and incubate them to prevent the mother from accidentally crushing the nest. A good method is to place them in a small plastic tub filled with vermiculite or potting soil and place the tub under a heat lamp. Be sure to mist the eggs regularly with distilled water to keep them moist. Turtle eggs generally take between 75 and 90 days to hatch, and baby turtles spring from the egg fully equipped to feed and care for themselves. Their shells are soft, and they are easy meals for predators such as raccoons and skunks. They will need continual protection.