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The Buzz

It's Prime Time for Snapping Turtles in the Preserves


If you're a big fan of turtles, particularly snapping turtles, it's a great time to head out into the preserves and do a little wildlife spotting as long as you follow some basic common sense rules.

June and July are prime egg laying months and females generally have one thing on their mind: Getting to a nesting site. That often involves crossing a trail or roadway to get to a spot where she can lay her clutch of eggs. 

While it's nesting season for a variety of turtles in the preserves, the common snapping turtle is by far the most impressive. With adults weighing in excess of 20 pounds, they're nearly impossible to miss and, based on the photos preserve visitors have been posting to the District's Will County Wildlife Facebook group, it's a hotbed of activity out there.

Where you're most likely to see them

When seeking out a nesting site, turtles go for loose soil that's in a sunny location. In the preserves, that often can be alongside a trail, particularly at Lake Renwick Preserve, according to District wildlife biologist Glen Buckner.

But regardless of which preserve you're visiting, there's a chance you'll have some company.

"Animals use the trail edges the same way people do, (taking the) path of least resistance," Buckner said. 

For example, there was this turtle we came across only a few feet off the trail at Messenger Marsh.


She's found a spot, now what?

Once a snapping turtle finds a nesting site, she will spend the next few hours digging a shallow hole and laying anywhere from 20 to 40 eggs. She'll then cover the hole and leave the nest. Her work is done.

But the work for hungry animals, such as raccoons, coyotes, foxes and snakes has just begun.

"There is no safe time for nests," Buckner said. "Raccoons have a great sense of smell, so they walk the edges of ponds or trails and, if they smell anything, they dig."

Up to 90 percent of turtle nests are destroyed by those above-mentioned animals looking for a meal, so don't be surprised if you come across a crime scene consisting of a series of holes and broken shells.

The snapping turtle eggs that beat the odds will hatch in approximately 90 days.

Follow this advice if you cross paths with a turtle

Buckner advises people to not move a turtle or try to chase it off while they're laying eggs. They have a job to do and that job is best done at their own pace.  

Additionally, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources advises against interfering with a turtle on a road or trail regardless of whether or not it's involved in nesting activity. IDNR recommends allowing the turtle to attempt to cross on its own if possible but if the situation calls for giving the turtle a hand, follow these bits of advice: 

  1. Do not endanger yourself or other people.
  2. If you do pick up a turtle, move it to the side of the road that the turtle was heading toward and let it go. With the exception of snapping turtles and softshell turtles, all turtles should be picked up along the edge of the shell near the middle of the body. 
  3. Snapping turtles and softshell turtles are aggressive and should be left alone. 
  4. When handling a turtle, you may be bitten, scratched or urinated on. Consider yourself warned.
  5. Never drop a turtle or pick it up by the tail. Doing so can damage their spinal cord.


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