What Is That … Turtle Doing?

Waddells

It is spring and the snapping turtles are busily laying their eggs along the shoulders of our cottage road.  Unfortunately, our first two sightings of the year on May 25th were of dead turtles in the middle of the road; so folks, especially at this time of year, please watch for turtle crossing signs and slow down for turtles.  Although we seem to have many snapping turtles in our neighbourhood at the lake, the Ministry of Natural Resources has designated them, province-wide, as being a species of special concern.

This time of year, female snapping turtles emerge from the depths of nearby ponds, as well as the lake, to make the arduous trek to deposits of granular material, including the shoulders of nearby roads, to excavate holes into which they deposit their eggs.  With each turtle laying up to 40 eggs you may be tempted to think we could soon be overrun by snapping turtles.  But within a few short days, the vast majority of the eggs are dug up by local raccoons and foxes for dinner. (In addition, baby turtles are consumed when they hatch in the late summer.)    Researchers estimate that only seven in 10,000 snapping turtle eggs reach adulthood.  The first of the following photographs is of a female snapping turtle, head down, digging the hole for her eggs.  The second shows the remains of a nest after it was predated.

Some snapping turtles show better sense and lay their eggs elsewhere than the roadside.  This snapper crawled from the lake to lay her eggs in our ‘lawn’ between the cottage and the shore.  We watched her for most of a day as she slowly inspected the area for the perfect spot to dig and lay her eggs.  Although we identified the edge of the nest with a lawn ornament to prevent inquisitive great nieces and nephews from disturbing it, we did not see any babies emerge from the nest.  Sometimes eggs are not viable.

Other animals contribute to our joy of spring at the cottage, including the spring peepers which congregate for breeding long before we see snappers laying their eggs.  As early as March, even while there is still ice on local ponds, spring peeper males peep, peep, peep their mating songs to attract the females which subsequently lay their eggs at a shoreline of still water.  We will not see the wee frogs until August, but here is one of the adults that would (or could) have made some of the early spring raucous noises.  This photo shows the classic X which adorns the adult spring peeper’s back.

Another song on the spring air is that of mating northern leopard frogs.  After emerging from the mud of pond and lake bottoms in the spring male northern leopard frogs drone on, making a sound more like a snore to attract mates.  Many females lay their eggs in the same locations, so that at times, large masses of eggs are clumped together in one place.  Similar to spring peepers, our enjoyment of northern leopard frogs in the spring is limited to their mating songs which do tend to interrupt our own snoring.  We hope to see the tadpoles and young froglets later in summer. This photo is the earliest photo we have, showing an adult northern leopard frog in April.

It seems we had a long winter and we are certainly having a cold spring.  Nevertheless, listening to and watching the wildlife around us at the lake reassures us that summer is coming. We are delighted to be back with the sights and sounds of our little cottage on Three Mile Bay, White Lake.

Our favourite book that covers snapping turtles, spring peepers and northern leopard frogs is The ROM Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Ontario.