If turtles could put locks on their doors, they would. Lucky for them, they have friends at Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) to help keep their valuables safe.

Turtle eggs are at high risk for being eaten by scavengers. To increase their chances of survival, CVC staff build turtle nest protectors to keep pesky scavengers away from the eggs. Building nest protectors helps increase the chances of survival.

Female snapping turtles reach sexual maturity much later in life. They begin to lay eggs between the ages of 17 and 19. Snapping turtles can lay upwards of 50 eggs at one time! Midland painted turtles reach sexual maturity at about five years old and lay between three and 14 eggs at one time. A group of turtle eggs is called a clutch.

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Snapping turtle – photo credit: CVC 2011
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Midland painted turtles – photo credit: Jon Clayton 2011

From late May to early July, female turtles search along shorelines to find a place to dig nests and lay their eggs. They burry their eggs in areas with loose sand or gravel because it’s easy for digging and can retain heat from the sun. Mother turtles do their best to cover the eggs. Once complete, they leave the future of their eggs up to fate. Interestingly, the incubation temperature of the eggs can determine the sex of the turtle.

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A snapping turtle laying eggs along the shoreline at Island Lake Conservation Area – photo credit: CVC 2014

Nest protectors are these turtle’s first line of defence. Once breeding season is underway, CVC staff search throughout CVC conservation areas for new turtle nests. Once located, a nest protector is centred overtop of the nest. Nest protectors are wooden square frames with wire mesh on top that cover the entire nest. They are weighed down with rocks or sand bags to discourage raccoons, foxes, skunks and any other hungry animals.

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CVC crew staple wire mesh around a square frame, approx. two and a half feet tall and wide. – photo credit: CVC 2015

Turtle eggs are most vulnerable to predators within the first two weeks of being laid because this is when their scent is the strongest. The smell significantly decreases after two weeks, and the nest protectors in preparation for hatching. Snapping turtle eggs hatch in the fall, whereas midland turtle eggs may hatch in the fall of the same year they are laid but can sometimes stay in the nest over winter and emerge the following spring. There’s no way to predict what season the eggs may hatch so it’s important that CVC staff closely monitor activity in the nest.

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Baby snapping turtles from a 2015 clutch – photo credit: CVC 2015

Building nest protectors helps give turtles a better chance of survival. Learn more about species at risk in our watershed and how you can help protect them. Keep an eye on the Conservation Youth Corp (CYC) page for opportunities to help build turtle nest protectors.

Have turtle photos of your own? Share them with us on Twitter and Facebook.

Comments (4)

  1. This is great!! It appears that CVC is only using nest protectors on CVC lands? If this is the case, would CVC be willing to encourage/help the public with installation of nest protectors at non-CVC sites? Also, has CVC ever considered barriers that would deflect hatchlings emerging form road-side nests away from harm. I think road mortality is a key threat to most turtle species, and this could be beneficial. I made and installed one this year at a recurring snapping turtle nest site. I was not able to confirm that it worked, but neither did I see any evidence of hatchling mortality. Just a thought…..

  2. Hi Neil!
    Yes, we are just using nest protectors on our CA lands. The public could use them but with the understanding that they must be able to identify a new nest (preferably see the turtle nesting) and remove the nest protector at the appropriate time and not forget about it otherwise the hatchlings would be trapped. There are several documents online referring to what you can do to help, here’s one example: http://www.torontozoo.com/adoptapond/pdfs/turtles-on-property.pdf

    We haven’t done extensive work with road barriers for turtles but do acknowledge that roads are a significant threat. We do have a Road Ecology team looking at the impacts of roads on various wildlife species.

    Certainly turtles will travel to and across roads for a nesting site. At this point we have not identified areas where turtles may be moving from inside our CAs to an outside nesting site that may be roadside (or moving from a roadside nest to our CA) but it’s something important to consider. We must also keep in mind that roadside is not CVC property and installing a barrier would require permission.

    Thanks for your interest and we hope to hear from you again soon!

    Kimberley

  3. We have protected the snapping turtle nests since early June. Can we remove the cage protector or do we have to wait until fall. We live in central Michigan.

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