Teeny Tiny Turtle Time

Dandelion leaf for scale!

I’m lucky to live on the swampy end of a small lake. Across the road from my house is an even smaller vernal pond–a temporary pool that usually dries up in August. The traffic on the road this time of year is busy with turtles and frogs traveling from pond to lake. We keep an eye out and try to move our travelers across the road before cars zoom past (pro-tip: move turtles in the direction that they are headed, or they will turn around and march back into the road!)

This week we’ve seen several painted turtle hatchlings, each about the size of a quarter. Painted turtles lay their eggs on land in nests that they dig in late spring or early summer. Baby turtles hatch in late summer, but often stay in their nests through the winter. Now they’re scurrying to the lake. And I do mean scurrying–they try to run out of your hand if you airlift them across the road.

I photographed a couple after moving them to safety, and was surprised to see an egg tooth. An egg tooth (also called a carbuncle) is a hard scale sticking out from its upper jaw. The internets tell me that a painted turtle’s egg tooth usually falls off a few days after the turtle hatches. But if it spends the winter in its nest, its egg tooth is still there when it emerges in spring.

Why, you might ask, do turtles (and birds and other reptiles) have egg teeth? Here’s an acrostic poem with the answer:

Emerge from your egg–
Get ready. Get set.
Go!

Tap, tap, tap with your sharp, hard tooth
On your leathery, plethery shell.
Over and over. Tap, tap, scratch
Til you puncture it. You’re ready. You’re set.
Hatch!
–©Buffy Silverman


A close-up of an egg tooth. Plus a bonus equation poem (see Laura’s blog for more about equation poems.)
Egg + Tooth = Hatchling!

Looking for today’s Poetry Friday Round-Up? Head over to Jama’s Alphabet Soup for all The Words of Poems!

24 thoughts on “Teeny Tiny Turtle Time

  1. I love this, Buffy! I didn’t know that turtles have an egg tooth. We have two box turtles living wild in our back yard. I am hopeful that we may see quarter-sized hatchlings this spring.

  2. Buffy, I love your acrostic poem’s rhythm, rhyme, repetition, and plethery! That’s wonderful that you help the turtles. I love your equation poem, too. Thank you for all the great information on turtles and cute photos. Vernal ponds have treasures. I love in the spring when you hear a quacking sound coming from the woods, which are not from ducks. You probably know about wood frogs, right?

  3. Delightful acrostic, Buffy. Our third graders are head-starting Blandings now, so I’m certain they’d appreciate this poem. I agree with all that “leathery-plethery” is perfect!

  4. Lucky, lucky YOU to live near a turtle highway! Thanks for sharing with us — photos, close-up, and FABULOUS acrostic. Your craft inspires me. Such word choice, the pacing, the rhyme…WOW!

  5. Thanks for taking me to the world of turtles and the hatching of them. I learned a lot from your poem. I had never heard of an egg tooth. Turtles don’t have beaks like chicks do to help them hatch.

  6. Thanks for sharing this, Buffy! Your acrostic poem fits so well! Love the sound of “leathery plethery!”

  7. OOOOO. Wonderful photos and information. Love your poem about the egg tooth and the tips about helping them across the road. Thanks, Buffy.

  8. Yay for your super observant eyes! The tiny turtles were fascinating enough, but that egg tooth is amazing! Your kind of traffic is the kind I’d love to be stuck in 🙂

  9. Look at that adorable little baby with its wonderful wee egg tooth! Thank you, Buffy. And great seeing you this morning in the poetry session. too. xo

  10. I had no idea about that tooth, Buffy, fun to learn about. I think Michelle is right, you need to do something about a nature show, or a blog for kids’ learning. “the size of a quarter”, wow, I didn’t know. My students and I had the pleasure of seeing hatching & helping the wee ones into the ocean on a trip to Costa Rica, but they were sea turtles, much bigger hatchlings! We just aren’t wet enough here to have those frogs & turtles around, perhaps near lakes? Thanks for the gem of a poem ‘how-to’ & the equation!

  11. I think you need to host a kid’s nature show, Buffy! Like your blog, but even more—filled with fun facts and leathery-plethery poetry and all manner of cool and delightful stuff. I’ve loved this egg tooth episode. 😀 (The close up photo is amazing!)

  12. Didn’t know about egg teeth. Fascinating stuff. Believe it or not, I dreamed about turtle hatchlings last night! And here you are today, with this wonderful post with pics and a cool acrostic. *smiles big*

  13. What a delightful and informative post Buffy, I love your EGG TOOTH acrostic poem and these fun descriptive words “ On your leathery, plethery shell.” How wonderful to live footsteps from all this nature, thanks!

  14. That’s the cutest little egg tooth ever! My son had an extra tooth in his mouth that looked like an egg-tooth. We called it his “dragon tooth.” I moved a turtle last summer….far away and down a road to a stream. Yikes! Thanks for the pro tip. I’ll keep that in mind. Super last word in your poem. It punctuates perfectly.

    1. Lots of folks do what you did, but if it’s a female who is looking for a place to lay her eggs (often what you find crossing roads in the summer) she’ll start her trek again.

  15. Oh, I do ADORE turtle hatchlings. What a wonderful experience for you.

    We have had the other end of the scale, with many adult turtles converging on one, almost-empty dam during the recent dry season. I was trying to help them along with feed… and was so thankful we finally got some rain. The dam is by no means full! (About a quarter of the way there) – but they are now out of the mudhole, and into waterweeds. And there are fish!)

    Thank-you for this cuteness – and the leathery-plethery lovely poems.

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