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Shelby Township

September 11, 2013

Stony Creek Nature Center hatches 30 snapping turtles

By Sarah Wojcik
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Kim Sherwin, a park interpreter, holds a baby snapping turtle at the Stony Creek Nature Center Sept. 6. A nature center employee witnessed a large female lay the eggs just outside of the nature center and later returned to relocate the nest with precautions to ward off predators. The eggs began hatching Aug. 25.
A young snapping turtle rests in a small sandbox inside the Stony Creek Nature Center Sept. 6. The turtles have grown in a few weeks — they are smaller and have pliable shells when they first emerge from their eggs.
 

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — On Aug. 25, around 30 miniature snapping turtles began emerging from their shells at the Stony Creek Nature Center.

Park interpreter Aaron Yilmaz was excited when, in early August, he caught sight of a large female snapping turtle he estimated to be at least 11 years old digging in the ground just outside of the nature center’s windows near the soon-to-be butterfly house.

He ventured out a few days later with a garden trowel and found the cavity where she laid her eggs. He took some of the soil and transferred the 30-some eggs to a coffee can.

Snapping turtles lay anywhere from 10 to more than 100 eggs, but the normal amount is usually around 25 to 50, Yilmaz said.

“You have got to take the egg and maintain the position it was in, because if you turn it, you will kill it, at least that early in that stage,” he said.

Then he poked some holes in the bottom of the coffee can and buried it about a foot in the ground in a different spot nearby that was open and well-drained. He covered the newly fashioned nest with metal mesh and placed a brick on top to ward off predators.

Yilmaz said at least 60 percent of nests get raided, mostly by raccoons, but also by animals like skunks, foxes and minks, and once the baby turtles hatch, they are fair game to creatures like herons, large fish, water snakes and even bullfrogs.

Snapping turtles, he said, incubate about 65 to 90 days, depending on the temperature — the cooler and dryer, the longer it will take. But during this particular batch, the weather was rather hot.

“It’s pretty cool, too, that depending on what temperature the nest is, it can determine whether they’re all male or all female, or a mix of both,” Yilmaz said. “Usually, if it’s below 71 degrees, they’ll be all female, but if it’s warmer, they’ll be all male.”

It is still too early to tell the gender of this current brood, he said.

“What we do is, as soon as they hatch, we leave them in the nest for a couple of days because, when they dig themselves out, they’ll still have a large yolk sack attached to them, and so it’s kind of odd for them to move around. They have to drag it,” he said.

The yolk sack is what feeds the baby turtles for several weeks. Yilmaz said when they absorb and dry up, the nature center staff will begin to feed them black worms at first and then, after a year and a half or two, chopped night crawlers.

When the turtles’ yolk sacks are mostly absorbed, park interpreters transfer the small reptiles from a sand-filled box to a large tank filled with shallow water, rocks and plants. Most of the turtles are currently at that point.

Yilmaz said that snapping turtles are common throughout Michigan and are one of the most abundant turtles he sees, especially in June, when the nature center receives a myriad of phone calls about snapping turtle sightings.

“They nest, like, late May to early July, so mid-June is peak nesting season,” he said. “We get a lot of calls from people who see them on the side of the road and say there’s a stranded turtle, but really what they’re doing is looking for good terrain to dig a hole to put their eggs in.”

Park interpreter Mark Szabo said that the nature center will keep three of the young snapping turtles for the winter and, in the spring, release the snapping turtle currently on exhibit.

“The great part is to see the people that have never been able to witness such a thing be able to watch (the snapping turtles) climb out of the eggs. That makes it worth it,” he said. “Most of our visitors are repeat visitors, so we always have to be doing something different and new to keep repeat visitors.”

He said he was pleasantly surprised by the amount of people attracted to the snapping turtle exhibit by the nature center’s blog. The blog, which details new features at the Stony Creek Nature Center, can be found online by selecting “Stony Creek Metropark Nature Center” under “Blogs” at www.metroparks.com.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at swojcik@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1029.