Thom Smith | NatureWatch: Turtle nests can be protected from predators

Q: I've lived on the lake in Cheshire for 18 years. Every June, the turtles lay their eggs in several places on my property, but despite my best efforts to protect the nests, critters always destroy the nests.

This year, a carpenter working nearby found a nest of 24 eggs, put them in a pail and took them home to incubate. On Labor Day, he came back with the 20 survivors and released them in the water. It was a thrill it was to watch the tiny creatures swim away! Perhaps you could give me some tips on how to better protect the nests next year.

—Joyce, Cheshire

A: What a wonderful story, thank you for sharing it. And thank the carpenter for me. In 1980, the Plymouth redbelly turtle (cooter) with a population estimated at less than 300 individuals, was officially declared federally endangered. It was the first freshwater population to be offered such consideration at the federal level. More was afoot than only nest predation by skunks and raccoons in Plymouth. And although local populations appear healthy for the two commonest turtles in the region, the painted and snapping turtles, you certainly might protect a nest now and then, provided you are vigilant around hatching time, so that the newly emerged turtles can be brought to the water. The newly discovered nests can be covered with a wire cage that is staked into position. This may be safer than removing for incubation. I have always been told to mark each egg so that it can be placed in the same position as found.

Q: While nearly all the questions I have submitted to you over the past years have been on avian life, I now ask you one dealing with the study of myrmecology a good word for your readers to look up.

During the past two summers. I've been experiencing lots of those tiny ants called sugar ants. All it takes is the smallest of crumbs dropped on the floor and within a very short time I am inundated with what appears to be hundreds of them.

They are easily dispensed of, at least temporarily, with sprays of unhealthy toxins and ant traps.

My question is, "Where do they go during the cold weather?" It seems that once summer is over, they disappear. Do they hibernate? Die off? Move to better feeding grounds?

— Michael, Great Barrington

A: The problem with using generic names is it widens the field. For instance, Camponotus consobrinus, commonly known as the sugar ant, but more specifically the banded sugar ant lives in Australia and southeast Asia. There are other related species found in this country, although I do not know of any locally. The sugar ant name is commonly attributed to any species of ant that has a sweet tooth. While most ants usually live in the ground, other than carpenter ants, some are said to have moved into houses where their colony may remain active regardless of the season. When we have had problems with "sugar ants," or better put, many small ants like the "sidewalk" ant, they have been minor, in that ant traps have eventually, sometimes quickly, eliminated the invasion. Never have we had an invasion during winter, so I must conclude our ants are living a normal ant life, with the colony in the ground, and not in the walls. Some may die off, but the colony survives.


"Enjoying enhanced monarch activity during this heatwave. Four to six monarchs, plus a couple painted ladies, seem quite enamored of my yellow butterfly bush and my glorybowers."

— Kathy, Pittsfield

I have not been as lucky at seeing any of the monarch migration from our vantage point, although my wife, Susan, did catch glimpses of a monarch that we released earlier in the day, flitting about our yard. It is actually the very first monarch we raised from caterpillar, although Susan did raise some back when she ran the Wendell Nursery School 40-something years ago. We are expecting another chrysalis to not-so-magically produce a full-grown adult any day now. It, too, will, weather permitting, begin its long journey to central Mexico to spend the winter, then return in the spring to somewhere in the southern U.S. to begin laying the eggs of another generation. It is hard to believe that something appearing so fragile could make such a journey.

Thom Smith welcomes readers' questions and comments. Email him at or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.


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