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Is it ok to move turtle eggs?

Snapping turtle hatchling; Credit: Scott Gillingwater

Snapping turtle hatchling; Credit: Scott Gillingwater

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.

We are frequently asked what to do when a turtle lays eggs in an “unnatural” place. Recently, someone asked 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.

A snapping turtle lays her eggs, roadside; Credit: James Paterson

A snapping turtle lays her eggs, roadside; Credit: James Paterson

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. Our 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, it remains important 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.

Blanding's turtle crosses gravel road; Credit: Diana Troya

Blanding’s turtle crosses gravel road; Credit: Diana Troya

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.

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  1. 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?

  2. A. Cooligan

    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

  3. John Urquhart

    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.


  4. Barb Gain

    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

  5. John Urquhart

    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

  6. 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

  7. Natalie

    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?

    • John Hassell

      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.


  8. jay

    i have seen an ontario snapping turtle lay her eggs she spent 3 days finding the spot. Now my biggest concern is i have informed the builders and the city officals to there whereabouts. Not only do they not care as to what happens to them they specifical asked to not have it mentioned to the mnr. As they are on a construction site and it would delay progress.. so i need to know the proper way to move this nest of eggs as to make sure that our wildlife continues to flurish for future.generations to enjoy..Again its very critical i get this done immediately or they will destroy the nest without any concer. thank you jay in innisfil..

    • Ontario Nature

      Hi Jay,

      It is not okay to move snapping turtle eggs, as they are a species at risk.

      It would be best though to report the site to the conservation authority or the MNRF.

      Thank you Jay

      ON Noah

  9. Ally

    I have 4 big turtles in my back yard. I made them fenced space for them so they won’t get lost. But somehow they end up getting out anyhow. Since I have a big back yard, they tend to lay eggs mostly were plants are located since it’s moist. The problem is, if we don’t find the eggs they may die from the heat or get eaten. While my father was doing gardening, he found a hatched turtle. After we began to slowly digg and we took all of them out. The problem is, the turtle seem fine at first but it then passed away. I started watching YouTube videos and I noticed that turtles are born much bigger and much more active than the one we found. It was a possibility that my father accidentally may have cracked the egg while gardening. The rest of the eggs look perfectly fine. I placed them in a big bowl and dugged them in. What is the possibility of there survival?

  10. Jack

    I have question, I work at an music event station by a river here in South Carolina. Last week a turtle came and laid many eggs buried in the on location near the stage. We have a large event coming in the next week and I am extremely concerned about the safety of the eggs. I was wondering if it could be safer to move the eggs to the other side of the property approximately the same distance away from the river. However, I don’t want to harm the eggs or do anything wrong regarding the safety of the animals or legal matters. I know nothing about this topic and have no clue if there is a wildlife protection agency that I could possibly call to help me with this situation or not.

  11. Steve

    After reading this blog I realize that I can’t move some turtle eggs that were laid right by the street in front of my house. As there is no curb people park on the edge of my lawn where the nest is. How do I protect them ? What is the solution ?

  12. Amy

    I have a question, theres a pond on a golf course with several turtles of different kinds, i visit there everyday (not touching them just taking photographs) when i was on my way down there not too long ago, I found a painted turtle pretty far from the pond on the golf course.. not too sure if it could have laid eggs and was heading back home ( I helped it back to the pond cause there was a bird jumping around it) .. back safe in the water now, anyway.. if i find a nest on the golf course, whats the best thing i can do to make sure it doesnt get touched or ruined by golfers, its a very active golf course.. kind of worried.. going to take a look around, won’t touch anything until I have some input from you, thank you..

    • Ontario Nature

      Hi Amy,

      Great question – we certainly hope those turtle eggs are okay!

      With respect to “whats the best thing i can do to make sure it [the clutch of turtle eggs] doesnt get touched or ruined”?

      The best think to do may be to record and mark the location of the clutch of turtle eggs, and place either a mesh wire cage similar to the one shown here: http://www.orilliapacket.com/2013/04/19/protecting-turtle-eggs-from-predators to protect the eggs, chicken wire with carefully placed stakes can help too.

      Hopefully the golf course will be willing to provide the materials to protect the nests, if not see if perhaps you could source the materials for them to protect the nests and you can also help the turtles by reporting your sightings to the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas: ontarionature.org/atlas

      ON Noah

  13. Peaches

    I gt a turtle bt it laid 2 eggs in water bt i put dem in sum sand wit a light over it

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