The home inspection associated with the sale of the house was scheduled for yesterday morning, so I bundled Raven up and headed over to the nearby town to see if I could find any cardboard boxes to get started on packing. I also made a stop at the local ball diamond to let Raven run for a bit – something that this house lacks is open space for her to dash around. There’s a little side yard, but it’s just not enough space for Rocket Dog. We had a nice outing, Raven got lots of exercise, I got a few wine boxes from the liquor store, though the other stores’ recycling pickup had unfortunately been the day before, so I wasn’t able to get any large boxes.
On the return trip home I decided to go along a back route that I don’t normally take because it’s narrow and twisty and indirect. It’s significantly faster to go along the main route, but the back route is quite scenic. Since I wanted to give them lots of time to finish up the inspection before I returned home, I opted for the slower, scenic route. As I was coming along a section that ran alongside a lake, I spotted what appeared to be a mess of white reptile eggs at the side of the road. I quickly pulled over and stopped the car, grabbed my camera and asked Raven to stay patient for a couple of minutes, and went over to investigate.
There were a lot of them, and they were strewn across the sandy shoulder. As I got closer, I could see that there was a small hole in the ground that presumably they had once been inside of. And as I got closer still, the mound of dirt beside the hole suggested that these weren’t simply a natural hatching. Inside the hole there were still a couple of eggs, but it appeared that nearly all of them were now on the ground at the side of the road.
The eggs were large, nearly the size of a ping-pong ball, and about the same texture and hardness. Based simply on the size, I figured they had to be Snapping Turtle eggs. There are certainly snappers in the area around here, although I haven’t encountered too many. They don’t haul up on logs the way Painted and other small turtles do, so it’s easier to miss them. Snappers lay their eggs in sandy soil, usually in June although in some parts of their range they may lay eggs spring through fall. The eggs get covered up in the sand, and heat released from the ground as it’s baked by the sun over the summer helps to incubate the eggs. The young eventually hatch after about 100 days, in August or September. When they hatch, the babies are just 4.4 cm (1.75 inches) long. They crawl up through the soft sand, and then make their way to water.
That is, if they manage to survive undiscovered for the entire summer. Reptile eggs are a delicacy for foxes and raccoons, and many clutches will end up as somebody’s dinner. The difficulty the female turtle faces, when she lays her eggs, is in concealing the nest sufficiently that it doesn’t arouse suspicion before the next rain can wash away both visual and olfactory clues to its presence.
The rain didn’t come soon enough for this nest. Not a single egg was intact. Most of them were clean inside, but there were one or two that looked like they contained what might have been egg yolk. I suspect raccoon, which would be more likely to hold the eggshell and lick the interior clean of yolk. Also, the hole in the ground was way too small and tidy to be the work of a fox (consider what results when your dog digs up your garden, for instance), but for a raccoon with dexterous arms and hands it wouldn’t be any trouble to dig a small opening and then reach inside to pull out the treats.
A female snapper may make more than one nest, each containing anywhere from 20-40 eggs, so hopefully she has another clutch safely buried somewhere, but it’s entirely possible this was her only bunch and she’ll have to wait till next year to try again. Fortunately, wild snappers, once they’ve made it through those perilous first few years, may live up to 30 years or more – captive individuals have been recorded as old as 47 – so she should have many opportunities for a successful clutch.