Stay on the lookout for female turtles, which continue to leave wetlands, streams and lakes and slowly crossing roads in search of higher nesting grounds.
The females are gravid (swollen with eggs) and seek a proper place on dry land to dig a hole in which to lay their eggs. Typically they chose an open location because warmth from the sun is important for the eggs to develop.
The choice of place is made with care. Turtles will travel long distances from water to find a suitable spot. The turtle uses her hind feet to dig out a hole as deep as her feet can reach. After the eggs are laid, she covers them with soil. Some turtles go to great pains to make finished nests look natural to stave off the attention of raccoons and other predators. The turtle departs when the job is done. She plays no further role in the life of the eggs or the baby turtles when they hatch. Val Rukavina, a friend in Minnetonka who has observed egg-laying turtles for years, sprays the tops of new turtle nests with insect repellent to keep raccoons from smelling and digging up the eggs.
The two most common turtle species in Minnesota, the snapping turtle and the painted turtle, lay 20 to 40 eggs or four to 10 eggs, respectively, at a rate of about two per minute.
The warmth turtle eggs receive comes from the surrounding earth, heated by sunlight and the local weather. The time it will take them to hatch is quite varied. Usually as many as two to three months or more pass before they hatch. Around 100 days is about average.
The hatched turtles then are on their own to find a pond, lake or stream and fend for themselves. Some turtle clutches of eggs hatch so late, well into the fall season, that the young stay in the underground nest and don’t head for water until springtime.
Jim Gilbert’s observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.