Way back on June 25, I watched a painted turtle lay eggs on a sandy hill outside my window in Harrison, Michigan. I had never seen that happen before and I was enchanted and watched it from start to finish. I even took the female back down to my pond afterward so she wouldn’t have to walk all the way back. I wrote about it in the post soon afterward.
Then I waited. And waited some more. I knew it could take anywhere from 30-to-80 days for turtles to hatch (a lot depends on temps). Every once in awhile I checked the site but 30 days soon turned into 80, and early summer turned into late summer and still and nothing.
My cousin, who is a herpetologist (it’s good to have one of those in the family) told me at our family reunion on Labor Day to wait another couple of weeks and then dig up the nest and see what was there. She said that sometimes the female gets so scared when someone comes around while she’s laying eggs that she does not really lay them, just goes through the motion.
So I waited. And waited some more. And then on Sept. 22, I grabbed my shovel and dug. Carefully, hoping I wouldn’t chop any eggs– or turtles–in half should there be any. I was not even sure what I would find. And after about four shovelfuls of dirt I hit paydirt. Or should I say a squirming mass of turtles about six inches down in the warm sand. Five turtles to be exact. Well, maybe six but I was so excited I could have lost one when I scooped them up. They were about an inch in diameter and the spitting image of their mom. Although they seemed happy at first to see the sunlight and me, they soon did their turtle thing and pulled back into their shells. I placed them down in the grass, then on the concrete and then in the house on the kitchen floor and took a number of photos of them. And then…well, I was suddenly at a loss on what to do. Maybe I shouldn’t have dug them up after all. Maybe they were getting ready to hibernate. Maybe they were now as good as dead because I HAD dug them up. Maybe I had sealed their death warrant.
I tried to call my herpetologist cousin but she was not available. So I decided to just let them all go. After all, the water was still warm, the sun was still bright and at the very least they could get a bite to eat (assuming they knew how and what to eat) since I was plumb out of turtle food.
So I took them to the edge of the pond on my property and placed them on a stick one-by-one at the water’s edge. And, one by one, they came out of their shells, launched themselves into the water and set off swimming as though they had been doing it all their lives. And then they were gone.
It was very cool.