Turtle In My Yard

a wild native snapping turtle

If you live next to a pond, lake, river, swamp, or other body of water, chances are you have turtle visitors in the late spring. With habitats shrinking due to land development, new roads, and even changing climate, turtles are traveling further, trying to locate a place to lay their eggs. More people are reporting turtles digging in their yards or along their driveways than ever before.

So what does this all mean?

First, CONGRATULATIONS, this is a real gift from nature. Very few people get to witness such a miracle of life. You are witnessing an act that has been taking place for over 200 million years. That mother turtle is doing what her mother did, and in turn, her mother's mother did, all the way back through time, while dinosaurs roamed, and even earlier! The real miracle is that this humble turtle was never taught, never witnessed her mother, and yet she knows.

painted turtle hatchling 2016Nest selection is a very special process. That turtle in your yard chose your yard. Turtles visually look for a spot, then they sniff and rub their faces into the soil, and finally they dig. If something is not to their liking, they will keep searching, even if they already dug a deep hole. The turtle knows how important this act of nesting is for her species survival and so should we! Too many local populations are collapsing and it is all because that mother turtle, looking for a special spot, is unable to complete her task.

Are my pets, my children, or I at risk?

Absolutely not! If you see an especially large turtle in your yard and you have a dog, keep it inside while the mother is nesting, it will take about an hour and a half. Nesting turtles do not hunt out of water, so the only danger is if she needs to defend herself. It is completely safe to watch the turtle quietly, as she lays her eggs.

Once the turtle is finished, she will fill in the hole and walk back to her home, never to return to this nest, or her hatching young. Turtles are highly solitary creatures and those little eggs in your yard are on there own from the moment the mother walks away.

a mother snapping turtle on the move

What can I do to help?

You can fence off the nest site to protect it from predators. Be cautious with netting, if the meshing is tighter than a half inch, the hatchlings won't be able to escape. Small gap fencing can be used, but you will need to check the nest daily when August rolls around.

Around the time that the turtles should be hatching, keeping your cats and dogs indoors or away from the nest can help save little turtle lives. Be sure to scan the lawn before you mow, and avoid using pesticides which can harm not only the turtle but the food the bugs that they eat as well.

If you wish to protect a nest and the hatchlings and you have more questions, please feel free to email us.

a snapping turtle egg showing the small life growing within

Can I move a nest?

For the most part, we advise against it. That mother turtle made her selection aided by instinct and finely honed senses, and a randomly chose site might not have what the baby turtles need. The mother also constructed the nest with special care (using bladder water to reinforce the egg chamber). It might look like a simple hole to us, but it's far more. Any new nest will lack a lot, which the mother selected originally.

Unlike chicken or bird eggs, turtle eggs cannot be rotated. This will kill the developing turtle inside. Digging up a nest risks all the turtles within. Turtle eggs should be handled like nitroglycerine, if the turtles are to have a chance of surviving.

Only under the most serious of needs should a nest be moved and only by experienced people. If you need to relocate a nest, please Email the Turtle Rescue League at alexxiaisaturtle@gmail.com... or call either 1-(774)-318-0734 or 1-(508)-404-7887

Live near a body of water and want to do more?

a small snapping turtle hatchling

You can encourage mother turtles to nest in your yard by planting a 'Turtle Garden'. If turtles find your garden desirable to nest, they won't need to cross roads. Plant a turtle garden. Landscaping your yard to attract nesting turtles can help local populations.