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Reproduction and nesting ecology of snapping turtles chelydra serpentina in southeastern michigan usa

Reproduction and nesting ecology of snapping turtles chelydra serpentina in southeastern michigan usa

Herpetologica 43(1): 39-54

Reproduction of snapping turtles was studied from 1978-1983 and nesting ecology and demography of hatchling snapping turtles were studied from 1976 through 1982 in southeastern Michigan. The plastron lengths of reproductive females varied from 159-235 mm. Mean clutch size over 6 yr 27.9 eggs (range = 12-41) and showed a significant positive linear relationship with body size of females. Females produced only one clutch per year. They youngest known-age, reproductive female was 12 yr of age. Duration of the nesting season varied from 13-31 days, and the initiation date varied by 22 days (22 May-12 June). The beginning of nesting activity each year was significantly correlated with the amount of heat available during March, April and May. Daily nesting activity was essentially bimodal with a major peak occurring between 0600 and 1100 h and a lesser peak of activity between 2000 and 2300 h. Nest construction averaged 11 min. Body temperatures of females at the time of nest completion ranged from 20.4-28.0.degree. C (.hivin.x = 22.9 C). Nests averaged 183 m straight-line distance from the nearest relatively permanent water and no significant difference was found between the distances from water of those nests destroyed by predators and those escaping predation. Females nested in open areas that were adjacent to their marsh of residence or adjacent to other bodies of water. Observed females moved as far as 1625 m (straight-line distance) in preparation for nesting. Some females that were observed nesting in more than 1 yr constructed nests within 5 m of a previous nest, whereas other females changed nesting areas and constructed nests up to 1000 m apart. Predation rates on nests averaged 70% and ranged from a high of 100% in 2 yr to a low of 30% in 1 yr. The majority of nest predation occurred within 24 h of nest construction. The major predators were raccoons and foxes. Nests preyed upon by foxes were significantly older and further from water than nests destroyed by raccoons. An average of 4.14 eggs or developing embryos died in nests that escaped predation. Weekly mean temperatures in exposed and shaded nests ranged from 17.2-23.3 C during the entire incubation period. Nest temperatures were significantly lower in the shaded nest for all weeks except the first week following egg laying. These data indicate that shaded nests do not provide enough heat to allow complete development. Dates of hatchling emergence ranged from late August to early October, with the majority of emergence occurring in September. The average number of days from egg laying to hatching emergence was 93.2. All sources of mortality resulted in a probability of 0.22 of surviving from age zero to age 1 (an approximately 90-day period from egg laying to hatching emergence from the nest).

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