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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Field Note: The Young Turtle's Slim Chances

Published: December 30, 2017


By Mark Seth Lender


A baby snapping turtle's chances for survival are incredibly slim. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Living on Earth's Explorer-in-Residence Mark Seth Lender muses on the many threats to survival that a young snapping turtle faces.

The number of eggs a snapping turtle lays are a gambit in a game of chance, but the game only starts once the tiny black hatchlings scramble out. There will be those who do not make it to water (birds get them). Those who reach water and drown. The ones, if they survive long enough to swim away, who will yet succumb, eaten by predators of every kind in the months to come. Some may simply starve. For all the animals that lack parental care, survival is essentially a numbers game.

Numbers offer little help for those still in the egg. The nest itself is a shallow and unguarded womb. In the eighty days it can take for snapping turtles to hatch everything can wrong. If the nest is discovered (as it is more often than not) all will almost certainly be lost. Except in the rare case, like the milk snake of this story, who went away.

In essence, every animal we see is a study in the mathematics of pure chance. In the perilous context of this particular time in the history of Planet Earth, all the more so.

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