The eight tiny softshell turtles may look a little lonely at the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center in Burlington. Last year there were more than 40 hatchlings overwintering in a tub at the aquarium, but this year, things are different.
"So, we just noticed that typically they hatch out sometime September into November, so we were just expecting that time so we could catch them. This year, since they hatched earlier, we just didn't catch that time," said Monica Beers of the ECHO animal care staff.
Vt. Fish & Wildlife biologists tell us the warm weather is behind the early hatching. How long turtles incubate in their nests depends on temperature. And with the warmer temperatures, many of the spiny softshells were out of the ground and hitting the water earlier.
"It really is just temperature-dependent. They have to get into the water before the ground freezes and they usually don't come out until April when the temperature starts to warm up," Beers said.
There may be fewer turtles for them to release in the summer because more are hibernating in the lake through the winter instead, but ECHO animal care says that's actually not a bad thing. Instead, it's allowing them to better study these tiny turtles' growth.
"It's giving us a really unique opportunity that we've never had before," Beers said. "To be able to track and quantify the growth rate of each individual turtle; to see exactly how much they grow while they're here at ECHO."
Beers says it's not something they've had the opportunity to do before, when there have been too many nearly-identical turtles to keep them separated. Now the hatchlings are photographed, weighed and tracked.
"So when they hatch they're about the size of a milk carton cap. And then by the time they leave here they about double in size," Beers said.
The eight hatchlings will stay at ECHO until the summer, when temperatures are warm enough for them to be released.
Vt. Fish & Wildlife biologists, who gather the turtles for ECHO, also told us that in addition to the warmer weather, predators got to more nesting sites. So, fewer hatchlings were found.
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