This summer, the Minnesota Zoo has welcomed some new, and very little, temporary residents through its doors. After the release of 13 state threatened wood turtles into the wild in June, researchers at the Zoo now find themselves in a familiar position as they care for the next generation of turtles.

Earlier this summer, Zoo researchers rescued dozens of wood turtle eggs from several nests that were threatened by either river flooding or their proximity to agricultural fields. These ping-pong ball sized turtle eggs were brought to the Minnesota Zoo where they have been incubating under close supervision and with significant attention given to maintaining appropriate temperature and humidity. With daily monitoring implemented, researchers were able to catch the first signs of hatching.

Recently hatched wood turtles after emerging from their egg casings.

Within a few short weeks, nearly all the eggs had hatched and newly emerged wood turtles, with their shells about the size of a golf ball, were transferred to their new habitat where they will spend the next several months eating, growing rapidly, and getting a “head start” on life. Early next summer the turtles will be ready for release back into the wild.

Turtle eggs and hatchlings are very vulnerable to predators including raccoons, skunks, and crows. In addition, some nests are at high risk of being destroyed due to flooding and agriculture, depending on their location. Raising turtles at the Zoo for their first year increases survival and ultimately helps sustain wild populations while managers work to address long-term threats. The expansion of the wood turtle head-starting program is an exciting step for the freshwater turtle conservation project as it expands its capabilities to rear and release animals.

A hatchling wood turtle gets accustomed to its new habitat.

It is important to note that head-starting turtles requires special permitting and is not legal for general members of the public. If you find recently hatched turtles please enjoy them from a safe distance and do not collect or disturb them. Check out our freshwater turtle conservation page for ways you can help and to read more about this amazing work!

We’d like to extend a big thanks to our partners at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for their collaboration and support of this important conservation work!

Your support will help ensure that projects like this will continue to work towards a future where wildlife thrives in Minnesota and beyond. Please donate to the Minnesota Zoo Foundation today. Thank you!  

Funding for this project provided by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund