Seven turtle hatchlings that appeared doomed when a car hit their pregnant mother were given a second chance at life Tuesday morning at a DuPage County forest preserve.
A good Samaritan noticed the injured mama turtle along the road in early June and brought her to Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn. As staff veterinarians X-rayed the injured creature they noticed she was carrying 10 eggs inside her.
Staff naturalist Kevin Luby said they decided to incubate the eggs and see if they would hatch on their own. But that was tougher than it sounds because the center didn't have incubation equipment available.
"We try to be ready for any possible issue but on that day we were not ready to receive unhatched eggs," Luby said. "I have a small incubator at home, so I set it at 82 degrees and set up the eggs in a deli cup in my basement."
The eggs began to hatch Friday and by Monday seven tiny midland painted turtles were crawling around the dish, so Luby brought them back to Willowbrook.
"They are the cutest little things you ever did see," DuPage County Forest Preserve District spokeswoman Bonnie Olszewski said. "They could sit on a quarter with their little legs sticking out,"
Luby said once they had all hatched, he wanted to get them into the water and in a natural setting as soon as possible.
In a more conventional scenario, Luby said, the mother would lay the eggs in a safe nest near water and vegetation. Releasing them Tuesday morning, he tried to mimic that as best as he could.
"It is normal for them to hatch and remain in the nest for a while. Eventually they emerge at the same time and head for the water," he said. "Most of them did get right into the submerged vegetation and hid themselves, but one was clearly pretty confused about what was happening to him in this new life he found."
Unfortunately, getting to the water does not guarantee the turtles' safety. Tiny and clumsy, they have many predators to avoid.
"They are so small and delicate that there's a lot of predators who could take them. Only one in a great number stand to make it to adulthood," Luby said. "But they all stand a heck of a lot better chance than if no one brought the mother to Willowbrook."
Those that do survive, Olszewski said, will dine on mosquito larvae, minnows and vegetation and will eventually be seen sunning themselves on a log or rock on warm, sunny days.