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Thursday, June 9

Spring seems to have skipped on by, and we’re now moving into the Hotlanta summer! What does that mean for the animals in the Herpetology collection?

Well, for many, it means that it is breeding and egg-laying season. Many of our female chelonians (turtles and tortoises to most folks) are out and about in their outdoor habitats trying to find just the right spot to lay their eggs. Most, like our eastern box turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina) will be digging holes in the ground to lay their eggs. They prefer somewhat sunny patches with loose or sandy soils, so this time of year if you are out hiking on nature trails you’re very likely to walk upon a female box turtle digging a nest on the edge of that trail. Meanwhile, some like our impressed tortoises (Manouria impressa) and Burmese black mountain tortoises (M. emys phayrei) are starting to get busy building nest mounds out of leaf litter. Our girls will drag as much leaf litter as they can from one end of their enclosure to the other and mound it up somewhere between two or three feet high, pack it down until it’s just right, and then lay their eggs in the center. The rotting leaves create heat which helps insure the eggs are at the right temperature for the two to three month incubation period. These two species are the only turtles or tortoises that build above-ground nests in this way. However, there are a few other reptiles that do this, such as many crocodilians and even the king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah).

In fact, even our local species of turtles are out looking for nesting grounds around Atlanta during this time of year. Late spring and early summer is the time many turtles are observed crossing roads. These are almost always females trying to find a safe place to nest. Unfortunately, many roads are between their usual aquatic haunts and prime nesting grounds. So as you drive around town, in particular in areas near ponds and rivers, please go slow and be mindful as turtles may be on the move. Something as simple and easy is a great way you can help make sure that next generation of turtles has a better chance for survival.
Robert Hill
Assistant Curator of Herpetology

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