Turtle hatchlings emerge from their ground nests in August and September. Unlike back-to-schoolers, these young ones must find their own way in the world, with no benefit of parental guidance. Mother turtles lay their eggs in a sunny spot in late spring and then leave.
Ninety per cent of the eggs and most of the hatchlings soon become necessary food for a variety of creatures.
If a hatchling makes it to adulthood, which can take 5-18 years depending on the species, it will have learned how to avoid predators, and has a chance to live a long life. Adult female turtles lay eggs every year. One Blanding's turtle was documented to still be laying eggs at age 75.
If just one daughter and one son from each female turtle make it to a reproductive age themselves, a turtle population will remain stable. Despite the juvenile losses, this long adult egg-laying adaptation has led to a 220 million year survival for turtles on the planet.
But for turtles worldwide this is no longer the case. Human development in the 21st century has impacted turtle survival in several ways. Predators, like skunks, raccoons, foxes, and coyotes, which thrive close to human habitation, feed on the eggs and hatchlings. Turtle habitats have been destroyed and fragmented. Road traffic can cause the biggest damage to turtle populations.
Adult females lose their lives crossing roads to reach their nesting spots, which can be some distances from wetlands.
And the quarter-size hatchlings coming out of the ground in our lawns, and near the edges of our sunny gardens and driveways, find more hazards.
"It helps to set mowers at a higher level," says Darcy Donald of Groton Turtle Conservation. She wants people to be aware of hatchlings' movements this time of year. "There is no reason to feed them. They have an egg yolk sac that sustains them for a couple weeks. Let them disperse naturally unless they are at risk. Then, just put them in the leaf litter near, but not in, the closest wetland."
Due to the types of wetland habitats left behind by the last glacier, Groton and most of Northwestern Middlesex County have some of the densest populations of rare turtles in Massachusetts. MassWildlife, which oversees protection of the rare turtle species, states "a small act of kindness could save some local turtle populations from annihilation."
If an injured turtle or an imperiled nest is found, contact Groton Turtle Conservation, which has state permission to handle rare species, at 207-415-5720.