A dead eastern box turtle became the mother of triplets this week, thanks to a wildlife rescue agency on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehabilitation said the babies survived the ordeal. It posted photos Wednesday of their development over the first 24 hours.
“These Eastern Box turtles were hatched from eggs salvaged from a female that didn’t make it,” said the post. “There was also about 24 hours between the time the turtles ‘pipped,’ or tore a hole in the egg, and when they emerged.”
The mama box turtle died from “complications of being hit by car,” according Hatteras Island Wildlife.
Female eastern box turtles produce between three and seven eggs when nesting, and they typically hatch in late summer or early fall, according to Herpsofnc.org.
Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehabilitation says the three babies were born over a 24-hour period, but didn’t immediately emerge from the shells.
“After they make the initial hole in the egg shell, they just stay there and absorb all of the yoke, which is still stuck to the inside of the shell,” said the post. “They need to get all of the energy from that yoke so they have enough stamina to ... find a place to hide and their first meal.”
Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehabilitation rescued the eggs as part of a mission to treat the “island’s ill and injured wildlife,” according to its Facebook page.
“Its goal is to restore animals to good health, then release them back into the wild,” says the site.
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission refers to the eastern box turtle as a “charismatic” species that is declining due to loss of habitat or getting hit by cars.
Among the oddities of the species: Females can store male sperm for years, allowing them to produce offspring up to four years after mating, says the commission.
Stranger still, the gender of the offspring is determined by nest temperature. “Warmer temperatures tend to produce females and cooler temperatures tend to produce males,” reports NCwildlife.org.