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Any ideas ?

December 16, 2014

Mystery holeBroken eggsOnce in a while when observing the natural world around us, we come across a mystery that we can’t readily solve from reference books – or a search engine for that matter. One such occurrence was the discovery of a hole near our apple tree the other morning. It was about 10cm deep, with sloping sides above a circular excavation with straight sides. It appeared to be a nest, presumably of a reptile, which had been exposed during the night, as it wasn’t visible the previous day and there was a pile of soil on one side, with four or five shattered eggs lying on the ground nearby.

The questions that arose were: who did the hole and eggs belong to, and had the nest been dug up by a predator, and if so, which predator? Presumably if the hatchlings had managed to dig their way out, the egg shells would still be in the hole.

There is an Eastern Brown Snake using a hole below a tree stump a few metres away – we know that because it occasionally surprises us (and itself) as we fill a bird-bath on the stump! But they normally have a clutch-size of 15 – 25 or even more, and use cracks in the ground. There is also a Common Blue-tongue regularly seen nearby, but they are viviparous (bear live young).Snake-necked Turtle

Our best guess is a Snake-necked (or Long-necked) Turtle, even though the nearest dam is over 100m away and the only nearby accessible water is a small amount in a leaky garden pond. As for the assumed predator, Red Fox perhaps, which we know is around – three recently killed chooks attest to that.

Any better suggestions would be welcome.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Di Foletta permalink
    December 16, 2014 8:16 pm

    Sounds like the long neck turtle, we have had many such finds, on one we put a wire covering so foxes would not dig up and it go the way of most of the turtles nests, we have seen the turtles laying ourselves, even in the hard stones of our driveway…from the covered nest finally after weeks and weeks came the amazing little turtles bodies bout size 50c it was truly amazing

    • December 17, 2014 6:53 am

      Thanks for that, Di. We’re interested to know how you spot the nests – ours was in a place we walk past every day and hadn’t noticed.

  2. December 17, 2014 8:13 am

    I noticed you have captured photos of the fox previously, why not shoot or trap it to remove it from the landscape? Especially when you seem to have quite a garden of eden of native mammals like the phascogale, a foxes would make short work of such creatures.

    • December 18, 2014 7:26 am

      Hi ADi,
      You’re right about the threat to native animals from foxes, and of course we do shoot and trap them. But there are plenty of foxes out there – remove one and another inevitably moves in. Landcare regularly promotes coordinated fox control programs.

      • December 23, 2014 9:54 am

        Yes this is an enormous problem, do you have many cats caught in your night camera? I just spent the last 6 days up in the Southern Riverina camped on an outback river with a friend who mentioned that new victorian government is planning to take the bounty away, this is quite disturbing… My opinion is that the only way we can move froward is for landholders like yourself to manage private land responsibly and try as much as possible to cull predators and manage the flora and fauna. Keep up the great work with your blog I enjoy it immensely 🙂

      • December 23, 2014 10:46 am

        Thanks for your positive feedback – glad you enjoy the blog. Yes, cats are also a problem and we regularly caught them on camera during intensive surveys during 2011. Regarding foxes, there was an excellent workshop recently in Kinglake hosted by the Upper Goulburn Landcare Network that focused mainly on the use of soft-jaw leghold traps, but also had a representative from Field and Game Aust. who conduct regular fox drives.
        Another pest species becoming an increasing problem for revegetation projects around here is deer, particularly Sambar.

  3. Geoff Leslie permalink
    December 19, 2014 7:53 am

    An experienced nature observer told me that turtles scrape a hole, lay the eggs and tamp it down with their shells. If the ground is hard, they will urinate on it during the digging. 80% of nests are dug up by foxes who detect the nest by smell. The young may hatch underground in dribs and drabs but wait till a rainy night before all digging out and emerging together. They instinctively head for the nearest water.

    • December 19, 2014 8:05 am

      Thanks Geoff – really interesting information, and a disturbing statistic about the foxes!

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