Each summer, adult female Common Snapping Turtles haul themselves out of the pond here at Gilsland Farm and look for a place to lay their eggs. They climb the hill and slowly probe around looking for an appropriately dry and sandy spot, checking the pollinator garden, the parking lot, and around the Education Center. We often don’t know where they chose to lay until the eggs hatch in the fall and there are suddenly baby turtles everywhere.
That’s exactly what happened on October 3, a normal Thursday that suddenly erupted into Baby Turtle Hatching Day when a visitor came in to our front desk in the middle of the day and said “Um, there are baby turtles roaming all around the parking lot!”
Our staff sprang into action. When baby snapping turtles hatch they do so by the dozen–the adults lay up to 40 eggs at a time–and begin to wander around looking for water. The mother snapper is long gone at this point, so the babies have to find their own way to safety. The nest was on the edge of our parking lot, and so we rushed to collect them all and keep them away from danger.
Together, staff and visitors collected 24 tiny turtles and brought them down to the edge of the pond. Baby snapping turtles ride out their first winter by slowing their metabolism and hanging out on the bottom of the pond, a process called “brumation.” We set the turtles down out of harm’s way, and let them wander the rest of the way to the water.
A few hours later, our Youth Programs Manager Catherine Griset checked back to make sure all the babies had made it into the pond. They all had … except one. One cute little wayward turtle.
Catherine huddled with one of our staff biologists Sarah Haggerty and Education Director Eric Topper and they agreed that bringing the lone baby inside to spend the winter in our Discovery Room would both be safe for the turtle and a great education tool. Catherine gathered up the baby and took it inside.
After consulting with the professionals at East Aquariums in Gorham, Catherine set up the baby turtle in a tank half-filled with water and rocks and under a UVB light that will encourage strong shell growth. Our youngster appears happy and healthy, and will be active in the tank all winter long. We also consulted with the state of Maine, who gave us the go-ahead to temporarily hold the single turtle for use in our education room.
We’ll watch our baby grow and strengthen, and then join the others in the pond in the spring. Come visit our new friend!
**NOTE: Please don’t try this at home! We are temporarily holding this turtle for educational purposes in consultation with our own biologists and the State of Maine. Snapping Turtles are not pets, and if you encounter baby turtles please don’t interfere with their natural movements.**