Raiders of the turtle nests remain a mystery

My daughter, Kalispell, was overjoyed Thursday night because she had helped solve the puzzles that ultimately allowed us to escape a room at Escape Oshkosh.

If you aren’t familiar with the latest entertainment craze, escape rooms give families or groups a set time limit (ours was an hour and we made it with 2 minutes to spare) to figure out a series of puzzles, unlock several boxes and gather enough clues to get out of the room.

My wife and I had tried unsuccessfully to escape the Mafia Room during a previous Escape Oshkosh adventure, but this time, the three of us tackled the Carnival Room. The entire room resembled a carnival with a variety of games like ring toss, balloon popping and magnetic fishing, some concessions and so on. A staffer watches progress through a camera and relays occasional clues through a TV monitor.

Solving the various puzzles by looking for clues in the room is intensely satisfying, and working together toward a common goal is a great team-building exercise.

Back at our Little House on the Slough, we have a real-life mystery that has so far stumped us.

It seems like every day, a new mama painted turtle is laying eggs in our sand. If my daughter witnesses it, she’s quick to place a piece of wire in a protective cone around the area.

She hasn’t been able to fence off all the nests, however, and there’s the problem.

Every couple days, we find a new turtle nest dug up, with only the white, leathery shells remaining. Some creature is digging up these little morsels and having raw omelets. What critter is doing it?

My first suspect is of course the egg-loving raccoon. Because we are so close to the water, raccoons are close by, too. A few years back, raccoons started hanging around the yard and making a general nuisance of themselves. I live-trapped a mother and three baby raccoons in one trap.

A little online research revealed that painted turtle nests are a wild version of IHOP for a variety of species, including skunks (like raccoons, they are omnivores), snakes, foxes, opossums, groundhogs, crows, chipmunks and 13-lined ground squirrels! I never suspected the latter two mammals would dine on turtle eggs, but I knew both frequently dined on my wife’s strawberry plants. Maybe this was another reason to start my chipmunk and ground squirrel trapping program.

There are four subspecies of painted turtle: the Eastern, Western, Southern and Midland. In order to reproduce, male painted turtles must be 2 to 9 years old while the females must be 6 to 16 years old.

This is one problem identified by the Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program. For example, the state threatened wood turtle takes up to 20 years to reach sexual maturity. Painted turtles can live up to 55 years in the wild.

To see descriptions of all 11 native and two introduced species of turtles, go to http://wiatri.net/inventory/witurtles/turtles/species.cfm

Protecting turtle nests, especially for some of the state’s threatened or endangered species, is something you and your kids can get involved in, especially if you have nesting turtles near your home. Constructing wire nest cages similar to the wire tubes my daughter uses is pretty easy and could protect a few future turtles from predators. Learn how to do it, using fencing with 1 x 3 inch holes and http://wiatri.net/Inventory/WiTurtles/Volunteer/Images/ProtectingTurtleN....

Volunteers also can report turtle sightings (and make online or paper reports). In particular, the citizen-based group tries to identify busy turtle-crossing sites and mark them with signs to reduce mortality by cars. How do you help a snapping turtle cross a road? Very carefully. Find a video showing how to do it, plus a list of turtle-conservation practices and ways to enhance wildlife-crossing structures at http://wiatri.net/inventory/witurtles/volunteer/mortalityPrev.cfm.

I’m thinking about putting a few trail cams in our backyard to solve the mystery of the painted turtle nest robbers once and for all. If you have any educated guesses on what might be gorging themselves on our turtle eggs, please drop me an e-mail.

Ross Bielema is a freelance writer from New London and owner of Wolf River Concealed Carry LLC. Contact him at Ross@wolfriverccw.com.