Here's the thing about the annual Turtle Hatch Day at the Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery and Aquarium: It's a misnomer. Each of the newbies heralded on Turtle Hatch Day already has used its "egg tooth" to poke open its smaller-than-a-marshmallow-size egg and wiggle into the world.
Hatch Day is, rather, a party to celebrate the next generation's successful arrival. Visitors will get up close and personal with scores of turtle tots whose turtle shells are still only the size of a quarter. "We get a lot of kids who light up when they see them. And adults, too," says Steve DeSimone, fish hatchery director.
Visitors will share birthday cake that says "Happy Birthday, Dear Baby Turtles." "You should see the looks I get when I order it," DeSimone says. Usually, a child from the crowd gets to blow out candles on behalf of the turtles, he says.
Did you know?
The fish hatchery has about 65 adult turtles living in its outdoor turtle pond. Each spring, the females climb from the water to bury their eggs in an adjacent sandy area. They usually lay them at night, DeSimone says. Each turtle can lay a group of up to 20 eggs, called a clutch; the hatchery can total 150 eggs in a season, he says.
One question DeSimone frequently gets is, "Does it hurt the turtle to lay the eggs?" His response: "I don't know. They almost go into a trance." It can take from 40 minutes to four hours for a turtle to finish laying a clutch, he says.
Fish hatchery employees dig up the eggs and incubate them. This year, for the first time, the hatchery partnered with a Hofstra University biology professor researching the turtles to install video cameras that ran overnight to pinpoint exactly where the eggs were buried. "It made it a lot easier," DeSimone says.
The parent turtles don't miss the swiped eggs. "Turtles do not have a parental sense. They leave the eggs on their own from day one. They don't even guard the nest," DeSimone says.
Two months to hatch
It takes the incubated eggs two months to hatch, usually by the end of August. The hatchery is thinking about installing a behind-the-scenes video feed to let people see the turtles poking their way out of the white eggshells, DeSimone says. "They do a lot better than they would in the wild," DeSimone says. In the wild, raccoons would go after the eggs and birds would go after the young turtles.
Newborns include the common musk turtle, also called the stinkpot or stinkin' Jim, because it releases a pungent odor when threatened; the painted turtle, which has yellow on its face; and the red belly turtle, which has a red underside of its shell.
"I like how they look little and don't know how to swim as much," Maria Feroce, 10, of Franklin Square says of young turtles.
The newly hatched turtles will replace hatchlings that have been on display for the previous year in a tank in the hatchery's Walter Ross Aquarium building. The older turtles will be farmed out to other nature centers and sanctuaries.
WHAT Turtle Hatch Day
WHEN|WHERE 2 p.m. Saturday at the Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery and Aquarium, 1660 Rte. 25A, Cold Spring Harbor
INFO Free with admission of $6 for adults $4 for kids 3 to 12 and people older than 65, and free for younger than 3; 516-692-6768, cshfha.org
The fish hatchery has more than turtles. People can fish for trout for $5. Poles can be rented for $2, bait purchased for $2. It costs $4 for each fish that is caught; people must take home the fish they catch.