Snapping Turtle Eggs Hatch at CROW

provided by Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife

The Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) is endemic to the western hemisphere. These animals are known for their large size (ranging from 8-20 inches) and each varies in color from brown to black. They commonly inhabit freshwater and brackish water territories, but prefer streams, rivers, and lakes with soft bottoms. While underneath the water, these reptiles typically hold their breath for between 20 to 30 minutes; however, when at rest they can hold their breath for 4 to 6 hours.

In addition to their size, these reptiles are also known for their aggressive bite. Their chomping power can be up to 45 pounds of force, which they use to eat insects, spiders, worms, fish, snakes, birds, small mammals, carrion, and even other smaller turtles. Although their shell is smaller in comparison to their body, which leaves a lot of the body uncovered and thus vulnerable, they make up for it with an aggressive temperament.

CROW has several incubators located at the hospital to use for reptile eggs. For most turtles and tortoises, their injuries are due to hit by car incidents, dog/predator attacks, and other unknown trauma or systemic disease. In November, a female adult snapping turtle came into CROW with severe injuries after being struck by a vehicle. Due to the severity of the injuries, the turtle was unresponsive and passed away shortly after being admitted. Radiographs were used to determine that the female was in fact carrying eggs, which were extracted postmortem and placed in loose soil in one of the incubators. After roughly 60 days, the eggs started to hatch. CROW currently has 17 successful hatchlings who will be released once their egg sacs are absorbed.

Most species of turtles seek areas of loose dirt that is easily dug up to place their eggs. This could be in open fields, sandy banks, or at the edges of ponds or lakes. The average incubation time is between 45 and 70 days, and the eggs need to be incubated at a certain temperature in order to increase the chances of viability. Typically, this ‘ideal’ temperature ranges from between 70 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Interestingly, incubating at a higher temperature will cause the clutch to hatch mostly females; on the opposite side, incubating at a lower temperature will yield more male hatchlings. When snapping turtles first hatch, a small amniotic sac will be attached to them initially. This egg sac contains vital nutrients and proteins and can take between five to seven days to absorb. Once the sac is visibly absorbed, the hatchlings will be ready for release back into the wild. In most cases of orphaned or abandoned babies, CROW staff chooses a specific location, such as a sanctuary or refuge, to release the babies if the location where the mother was found is unsuitable.

Although gopher tortoises are protected in Florida, many species of turtles and terrapins, although native, are not protected under state laws. This means they are frequent victims of habitat degradation due to coastal urbanization. Additionally, many turtles are used in the exotic pet trade, which can lead to illegal breeding operations, and can cause turtles to be taken out of the environment to be sold as pets. To protect turtles such as the common snapping turtle, individuals can raise their awareness when driving to avoid hitting them. Additionally, refusing to participate in exotic pet trade can help to ensure that these animals survive and flourish in their natural habitat.

THIS WEEK AT CROW (2/4-2/11):
There were 23 new patients admitted to CROW’s Wildlife Hospital including a brown pelican, a burrowing owl, 9 eastern cottontails, 4 eastern grey squirrels, an eastern screech owl, a great horned owl, two northern raccoons, 17 snapping turtles, and a Virginia opossum. Recent releases include a fish crow and a red-bellied woodpecker. Check out a full list of CROW’s current patients and recent releases.

Wildlife doesn’t have health insurance! Your donations help cover the costs of medical and rehabilitative care for over 5,000 patients admitted to CROW’s Wildlife Hospital each year.

Want to learn more about wildlife rehabilitation? Stop by CROW’s Visitor Education Center at 3883 Sanibel Captiva Road.

About Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW)
Established in 1968, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) is a teaching hospital saving the sick, injured and orphaned native and migratory wildlife of Southwest Florida and beyond.  Through state-of-the-art veterinary care, public education programs and an engaging visitor center, CROW works to improve the health of the environment, humans and our animals through wildlife medicine. For more information, or to plan your visit, go to If you find an animal that is in need of help, call (239) 472-3644 ext. #222.

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