Most people think of Spring as the time of new life or new beginnings, with the birth of fawns, hatching of birds or of tadpoles transforming into frogs. Actually, every season is one of renewal, some more obvious than others. Take that little hole in the ground. It was rather innocuous, about an inch in diameter. If I had not already known why it was there, it would have just remained one of those little mysteries. In this case it was turtle hatching time. Most likely the female three toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis) dug her nesting hole, laying her clutch of seven eggs, sometime last June. Why she chose this particular spot of relatively bare ground with just a few tufts of grass, is open to speculation. Even the literature suggest this is a good topic for further investigation. In this case, several of the new hatchlings were found before the hole. Some had traveled quite a distance, up to 15 feet away. Investigation of the nesting spot revealed one non-viable egg still in the ground. With a small hole about the diameter of a pencil lead in that egg, perhaps an insect penetrated it, killing the embryo. Meanwhile, there are six small, very active young turtles. The largest is 3.7 cm long, 3.3 cm wide (1.45 in x 1.3 in) and weighs 10 g (.35 oz); the smallest, 3,3 cm long, 3.2 cm wide (1.3 in x1.25 in) and weighing 8 g (.28 oz). Normally, turtles not being social animals, they would scatter, some hiding under the leaf-litter, others crawling under downed logs or burrowing into brush piles. At this age and size, they are extremely vulnerable. Turkey regularly scratch up the leaves looking for tasty morsels, usually a variety of insects and such, and these little ones are a real treat. Fox, raccoon, coyotes and even possum also think they’re tasty. These six however are now being kept in a special ecologically accurate habitat for their first year. Soon they will dig into the soil and begin their first hibernation. In spring, when they become active, they will be measured and weighed again to see what differences may have occurred.
The dark area is the location of the umbilical scar which will disappear two to three weeks after hatching.
The newly hatched three toed box turtle has a hard, pointed projection just below the nose that is used to tear open the egg case. It goes away after about a week.