Is it ok to move turtle eggs?

People often ask Ontario Nature staff for advice about how to deal with situations that they encounter in nature. Whether putting out a bird feeder, planting native flowers or grasses, or choosing not to cut down the trees on your property, people are on the front lines of local conservation efforts more often than you might realize.

Because I coordinate the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas, I am frequently asked what to do when a turtle lays eggs in an “unnatural” place. Recently, someone wondered if it was ok to move snapping turtle eggs that had been laid in front of their house, separated from a nearby lake by a road and a trailer park.

First, some important information about turtles: Turtle eggs have a naturally high mortality rate. So while it is expected that many eggs will be lost, that in itself is not cause for concern given that adult turtles possess extremely high survivorship rates when people aren’t around. The egg mortality rate only becomes a problem when human activity, roads, development, cause an increase in adult mortality rates. Even a one percent/year rise in adult mortality rates could wipe out an entire population of turtles.

Consequently, it is more important than ever to make sure turtle eggs survive. Eggs may not develop if they are not oriented correctly after being moved. The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) is preparing protocols for nest protection, which will be released in 2012. In the meantime, MNR must authorize the re-location of turtle eggs. This is because seven of Ontario’s eight turtles are at risk and therefore protected under the Endangered Species Act; the eighth is protected under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. Specific rules and regulations come with this protection including getting a permit before doing anything to turtle eggs. My advice in this situation is to contact your local MNR Species at Risk biologist to determine the best course of action.

However, given the toll that a growing human population in Ontario takes on turtles in general, I must emphasize how important it is to move adult turtles off our roads. Saving just one adult turtle from getting hit by a car is actually better for the species than protecting dozens of nests. Turtles should always be moved in the direction in which they are facing, no matter what the habitat looks like and nesting turtles should never be moved. You can learn more about reptile and amphibian stewardship here.

Another great way to help turtles is to record your observations for Ontario Nature’s Reptile and Amphibian Atlas to help improve our knowledge of where turtles can be found and their population numbers. If you’ve seen a turtle or turtle eggs, please let us know. If you are unsure about what kind of turtle you’ve seen, e-mail me a picture at johnu@ontarionature.org.

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9 Responses to Is it ok to move turtle eggs?

  1. Pingback: Hide and seek with snakes | Ontario Nature Blog

  2. This is great information John. I have family that live along the Grand River just outside of Brantford, Ontario and every year dozens and dozens of turtles decide to cross a winding road to bask in the sun or lay their eggs in the ditch. Many residents handle the turtles as you mentioned but there are individuals who see them as stationary targets on the road which is a devastating and unecessary tragedy. Are there laws against this type of sociopathic behaviour?

  3. A. Cooligan says:

    Thanks John, for the info. On Ennis Road, near Balderson, in Tay Valley, we watched quietly while a mother lay ten eggs into a nest on the side of the road at least 300 meters from Bennett lake. Three hours later the hole was filled and she was gone. When might those babies hatch? Andree

  4. John Urquhart says:

    Trevor and Andree,

    Thank you for your messages.

    Trevor asked: Are there laws against intentionally hitting turtles on roads?

    Yes, animal cruelty laws and for some species special legislation like the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act or the Endangered Species Act prohibit such behaviour. The trouble is that proving such an act is deliberate requires catching someone in the act and being able to prove that they did not hit the turtle (or other animal) by accident.

    Andree asked: When will the turtle eggs hatch that were laid in early June?

    Incubation time for turtle eggs varies greatly with temperature. The eggs you saw should hatch in approximately 50-90 days. The warmer the summer the sooner they will hatch. Especially cool summers in Ontario often cause eggs not to hatch at all. That is part of the reason why the survival rate of eggs to adulthood is so low. Thus the eggs could hatch anytime between late July and mid-Sept, or not at all.

    Thank you again for your insightful comments and excellent questions. I hope you have found my answers helpful.

    John

  5. Barb Gain says:

    We have found what we believe to be turtle eggs just laid within the past few days at the end of our gravel driveway at the cottage. we would like to move them to keep them safe from cars. Where is the bet place to put them and will they survive if moved

  6. John Urquhart says:

    Hi Barb,

    At this time of the year turtle eggs are typically hatching and usually egg laying is complete in early July. Do you have photos of the eggs? Is it possible they were dug up by a predator who got scared off before he could eat them?

    Feel free to email me at: johnu@ontarionature.org

  7. I have a huge pond I built in my back yard
    My pond is 37 feet in the middle. It’s about
    100 by 150 thousand of fish and lots of
    birds, snakes muskrats. And lots of turtles.
    On June 2, 3, 4, and fifth. My turtles
    Have been laying eggs in my gardens.
    I have many pictures. Lots of people
    know my pond and they drop off turtles
    snakes and what ever. It is our oasis and
    There’s.

  8. Natalie says:

    Hi!
    We have a snapper that lays her eggs near our septic tank every year as it’s quite sandy, for whatever reason she had layed them all along our drive way (gravel) it was raining when she layed them so the ground was soft, but it’s quite hard now. My questions, would they be able to dig themselves out of a gravel driveway, and would moving them to the septic sandy location harm them?
    Thanks,
    Natalie

    • John Hassell says:

      It is preferred that eggs are not dug out as they could get damaged inside when they are moved. If there is a way for them to drive around the nest until the eggs have hatched, that is probably best. Turtles at times nest on gravel road shoulders so their gravel driveway should not be a problem for the hatchlings to dig out of.

      Feel free to refer them to atlas@ontarionature.org if they have any more questions.

      Thanks!

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