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Turtle eggs found, hatching at local wildlife refuge

December 29, 2017
By AARON CERBONE - For the News ( , Lake Placid News

WILMINGTON - Turtle eggs found in Tupper Lake are hatching at the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge, months after they are supposed to - and against the odds - several of the hard-backed amphibians are surviving.

The eggs, 47 of them, were found by Ryan and Cheryl Lalonde as they walked on a beach owned by the Raquette River boat club near their home Dec. 3. Crows had disturbed the eggs but not eaten them, allowing them to warm and begin to hatch in the cool December sand.

The newly hatched snapping turtles, which usually crack their shells in August or September, were being picked off by birds and probably would not have survived long, as all nearby water sources were frozen.

Ryan and his daughter collected the eggs and seven surviving turtles, bringing the smelly critters into their dining room to warm up while Jessica Brothers, a volunteer at the refuge and a nurse at Adirondack Health, made the drive from Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake to pick them up.

She then drove them in a warm car to Lake Placid and handed them off to the care of Tarun Ingvorsen and Hanna Cromie, both interns at the refuge.

"It's a conscious decision you have to make for a greater good," Brothers said. "We have an ecosystem that's very fragile and people tend to throw it away and mistreat it. I can try to save these turtles to be released and hopefully fix the ecosystem with just a small trip to make, hopefully, a bigger impact."

Mysterious birth

A strange collaboration of events led to these eggs hatching late.

First, refuge interns believe the eggs may have been laid late due to an unseasonably warm fall and early winter this year. Then, a group of predatory birds uncovered the eggs, exposing them to air and sun. Finally, a warm spell in early December brought temperatures of 40 degrees to Tupper Lake that day, allowing the eggs to be exposed to heat not common at this time of year.

Refuge owner Wendy Hall believes two of these circumstances may be the result of climate change, and point to the physical impact shifting climates can have.

"If anything this might mean more, not so much that temperature is changing here - which it is, thermometers tell you that - its that temperature is important to wildlife," said Curt Stager, a professor at Paul Smith's College.

The average temperature in the Adirondacks has risen two degrees since the 1970s and warmer temperatures can impact the fragile balance of wildlife. Snapping turtles, he said, will hatch a higher percentage of females per nest in warmer weather, and that since 2017 had a cool summer, more would likely be born male.

Though one clutch of turtle eggs hatching late is not a definitive sign, Hall said refuge volunteers have witnessed several oddities over the past year that seem to set a trend in her mind.

Cromie and Ingvorsen said they have seen a red squirrel, chipmunk, rabbit and robin all born late in the summer this year, weeks or months after their typical times to be birthed. The refuge currently is caring for a black vulture, a species typically found in the deserts of southern states and South America.

These changes are not necessarily deadly, but they have also seen a rash of the West Nile virus spreading to eagles, osprey, broadwings and great horned owls, species that are not typically carriers of the virus.


Pampered turtles

The seven surviving turtles are now being incubated under a heat lamp in fish tanks filled with sand and a bit of water to replicate their natural homes. Cromie said there is a possibility more may hatch at the refuge, but it is unlikely, since they had been disturbed and transported so far. Reptile eggs cannot be rolled, and though a trip to the refuge was their only hope, the 42 mile drive surely jostled the eggs.

With turtle nests already having a low survival rate, 23 percent, this resilient group still has an under-average rate, around 14 percent. Despite that, the seven survivors are being warmed, fed and watered by refuge employees hoping to give the little reptiles, now only a couple centimeters across, a chance to grow to their full eight inch sizes.

The turtles will be in the care of the refuge's staff through the winter and will be released back into the wild, ideally in the same area of the Raquette River where they were found, when warmer weather brings turtles across the Adirondacks out of hibernation.

Turtles, whose mothers leave immediately after laying eggs, do not have to be taught how to survive like most other animals, meaning they can be released and have all the skills they need for a long life, even after being raised by humans.

The Adirondack Wildlife Refuge relies on donations and volunteers to rehabilitate, release and house the injured and sick animals of the Adirondack Park. Recently, it received a 128 acre donation in West Chazy from Leanna and Richard DeNeale, which Hall said will be used to observe the effects of climate change on the U.S.-Canadian border.



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