Do Northeast Florida turtles wear stilettos?

In Northeast Florida, turtles are common. There are gopher turtles in the woods, undeveloped lots and even at the beach. There areseveral varieties of sea turtle, snapping turtles and so on.

And from time to time, our lab mix Sunday will let us know a mature red-eared slider (usually the progeny of pet store escapees) or box turtle has made it into our yard through the open metal fence that separates us from the pond out back. In fact, last year my daughters and their friends were delighted to find a baby turtle that looked like a red-eared slider and much debate ensued over whether to release the baby.

chloe and alex

They named ‘him’ “Spike,” although it’s nearly impossible to sex a baby turtle until it is much bigger than this one, pictured in 2018. We parents were able to convince them that a turtle born free should, like William Wallace, live free or die.

baby yellow bellied red ear

Despite frequent calls of the cooter kind, I never thought to connect the weird-shaped holes I would occasionally come across in the yard with our beloved visitors. The holes looked like I’d been wearing stilettos, and then stepped in soft soil. Now this is impossible since I save my stilettos for few occasions, none of which include gardening. So, I just forgot about the holes and moved on.

That is, until a couple of weeks ago, in early June, when another large turtle came to pay us a visit. She held very still and it quickly became obvious she was doing something other than resting in the shade beneath the lacy foliage of our Florida native tree.

She was laying eggs! And, the nest entrance looked just like what I had spotted in my yard several times. It turns out the turtles are making those marks. Do they wear stilettos?

TMNT heels

Nope. She was using her wide, clawed back feet to dig, then cover up the nest. When she was done all that was left was that deep, narrow oblong hole that has now become familiar. Here’s a look at what female turtles’ back feet look like, and a picture of a different mama doing the same thing.

Now that we have the nest staked out, we’ll keep you posted as the eggs become a new crop of baby turtles. We all have our fingers crossed that Mama was actually “Spike.” In the meantime, you might want to check your yard, too.


Update: July 1, 2019

Here’s the nest a couple of weeks later. It’s already getting covered up by shallow-rooted vegetation. By our calculations, we should be on the look out for baby turtles to emerge sometime around mid- to late August, 2019.

slider turtle nest july 1

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