CROW Case of the Week: Florida Softshell Turtle Eggs

I am elated to report a happy ending to a past story that was written about a pregnant softshell turtle that was admitted to CROW on February 27 after being hit by a car, only to pass away from internal trauma days later. During her intake exam at the time, the mother began laying eggs. In total, 24 eggs were laid, and the eggs were placed in a climate-controlled incubator until they were ready to hatch.

Well, the eggs reportedly hatched two weeks ago. On May 11, the first of the two dozen Florida softshell turtle eggs began to hatch. By the following morning, 23 baby turtles had fully emerged.

During the 78 days in incubation, CROW rehabilitation staff monitored their progress by using a technique called “candling” that allows staff members to observe if there is a growing embryo inside. “Candling eggs is simply where a pinpoint light device, such as a small flashlight or cell phone flashlight, is placed against the egg to monitor embryo development inside. As the light passes through the egg, we can see a shadow depicting the embryo development inside,” said Breanna Frankel, CROW’s rehabilitation manager. “At the beginning stages, we can see blood vessel formation, toward the middle we will see a smallmedium dark spot (turtle developing) and toward the end we can actually see the arms, legs and head moving.”

The incubator was very effective in the egg-hatching process. “We had a 95 percent hatch rate for this clutch which is pretty incredible,” said Frankel. “The incubator helps to keep the temperature and humidity at our ‘ideal’ settings to allow a more favorable outcome. For turtle eggs, if you incubate at a higher temperature you will produce all females and if you incubate at a lower temperature you will produce all males. Our incubator allowed us to set the temperature to produce both males and females.”

After they hatched, the young turtles remained in the clinic for three days to ensure they had fully absorbed their yolk sacs. “The yolk sac is very important for turtle development. It provides nutrition and blood supply the entire time the turtle is in the egg,” said Frankel. “Sometimes we have to wait for it to absorb before releasing because it still has an active blood supply. This means if it accidentally got stuck on something or nicked, the baby could bleed to death. Nutrients from the yolk sac provide the hatchling with several days worth of calories and energy so they can get to a nearby water source.”

On May 15, the hatchlings were divided into six groups and dispersed to freshwater ponds in the area where the mother was rescued. “We divided our group of 23 into several smaller groups for release so we do not overpopulate one fresh water source with a nest that was not initially laid there,” said Frankel. And, while there was tragedy more than two months ago, there is now life moving forward.

“Despite the sadness that follows after any animal passes away, it is an incredible thing to take an egg and watch it develop. We are able to help continue the mother’s legacy even though she is not with us anymore,” added Frankel. “We were also able to temperature regulate our eggs to ensure we produced both male and female offspring. We were lucky that mom got to us in time to save her eggs – they may not have been viable if they had been laid during transport or if she had passed away sooner. Seeing these babies hatch and get released three months later was truly a miracle.”

 

CROW Case of the Week stories are written by Bob Petcher and appear weekly in the Island Sun and River Weekly Newspapers.

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