While I Was Away . . .

Holding the leathery white “petals,” these turned out to be something else entirely

Strange holes can be found all over my driveway

It’s always a bit scary coming back to Maine after being away for several weeks.  I worry more about the effects of extreme weather and invading animals than I do about vandalism.  The usual scenarios that greet me inside the house  are lots of dead bugs, and an occasional dead mouse or two.  No mice this time  – – yay! – –  but a bear made off with part of my bird feeder, the weeds lining the driveway and the orchard are nose-high, and there are about a dozen holes dug up on the driveway.

At first I thought they might be burrows dug by chipmunks.  Closer examination revealed white, leathery petals inside the holes and at their entrances.   I know that some rodents leave the hulls of seeds and nuts scattered outside their holes when they do  an occasional thorough “housecleaning” but I’d never known them to be fond of flower petals.  They looked like magnolia tree flower petals.  But I have never seen a flowering magnolia tree  near me in Maine, since that type of tree is not hardy enough to survive the harsh Maine winters.

Curious, I picked up some of the petals, which other than a little sand, were clean and odorless.  That’s when it struck me:  I was looking at the eggshells of newly-hatched baby snapping turtles!

Every June large, primeval-looking snapping turtles 18″ long slowly make their way up from the boggy pond, across the road, and continue 400′ up to the top of our dirt and gravel driveway in search of soft sand where they can dig a hole and lay their eggs.  Then, task completed, they make their way back to the pond.  These turtles are easily agitated, and their jaw pressure is such that they can bite off an unwary human finger with one snap of the jaw.  Anyone who has come face to face with one realizes that just because they move slowly does not mean that they are innocuous.  They can live for 50 or more years.  Snapping turtles are prized for their meat in China (think turtle soup).

Based on how soft the torn leathery shells felt (they dried hard and stiff only an hour after I collected them), these must have been freshly hatched the night before.  Gestation is 9 – 18 weeks, depending on weather conditions.  The baby turtles must scratch their way out of the shell, and then dig their way 6″ to the surface through sand, rocks, gravel and dirt, only then traveling the 400′ down my driveway, crossing the road, and heading for a pond they’ve never seen before.  Snapping turtles reside mostly in water, venturing out to sandy areas primarily when they wish to lay eggs.  Truly snapping turtles are  a miracle of pre-wired instinct, determination and survival.

This momma turtle  was around 18″ long

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