Summer is “baby season” for all sorts of Wisconsin wildlife, including turtles. Turtles are lucky in that their offspring hatch from the egg already knowing pretty much everything they need to know, but mom turtles have it really rough when it comes to finding the perfect site to lay their eggs. Some turtles travel up to a mile on land to find the perfect site with the right kind of soil for digging a nest and for incubating the eggs. Then she has to dig a hole to the perfect depth and width to hold her bounty of eggs. She then has to cover the nest to hide her eggs from predators. And finally, she must hike all the way back to the safety of the water.
“Mamma” is an Eastern Spiny Softshell turtle that was brought to the Wisconsin Humane Society Wildlife Rehabilitation Center after she was found on the road. The caring citizens who found her saw some blood on her shell and brought her to us worried that she was badly injured.
When we first saw Mamma, we were amazed at her size. She was the largest softshell turtle any of our staff had seen. Her carapace was 17 inches long, about the maximum size for an Eastern Spiny Softshell! Softshell turtles are so-called because the entire carapace (upper shell) is rather soft and flexible, not covered with the tough, protective “scutes” (scales), typical of other turtles and tortoises.
We carefully examined Mamma, and found that the blood that was initially found on Mamma's shell was just a superficial scratch. We took a radiograph (x-ray) to double-check for any fractures or other internal damage. But instead of finding a fracture, we found that Mamma was gravid - she was carrying 28 precious eggs -- inside her! We had to get Mamma released, and quickly, so that she could lay her eggs! Once we determined that Mamma was healthy, we took her to river near where she was originally found. Not knowing exactly where she was headed, we placed her at the water's edge to let her find her new nest site on her own. She was so happy to be released! We wish Mamma and her 28 future “kids” the best!