Saturday, March 14, 2009

Swamp Monster!

I've written about these beasts before, and I'll no doubt do so again. After all, what's not to love about Snapping Turtles? Chelydra serpentina is our largest, surliest, most dangerous turtle, and coming across one is always a treat. And we had the good fortune to encounter a monstrous example last Tuesday night while patrolling for salamanders. Read on. This post may not make you love snappers, but you'll probably find them interesting.

We found a Tiger Salamander along the roadway by this pool, so we all radiated out looking for more. Next thing I know, Greg Lipps is wallowing back to land carrying something a bit bigger than a salamander! Snapping Turtle! I knew some good photo ops would be in store.

Here's the burly bruiser, and he ain't happy! This one probably weighed about sixteen-seventeen pounds, but they can get a lot bigger. Wild ones can tip the scales at 35 pounds, and captives have been known to reach 75 pounds! The real whoppers might have shells measureing nearly two feet in length. Like most turtles, snappers are long-lived and might have a life span of 30 years or more.


A short vid I made, featuring the Snapping Turtle living up to its name. These reptiles are not overly endowed with social graces. Note the Spring Peepers and Western Chorus Frogs "singing" in the background.

Greg holding the snapper in such a way that you can really get a feel for the size of the beast. Note those feet and claws! These turtles are very primitive and almost dinosaur-like.

The business end. Anyone fiddling around with one of these would be wise to take pains to avoid getting any body parts near those jaws. While stories of broom handles being snapped in two by irate turtles are over-exaggerations, you'd get a painful bite and a deep nasty wound. As can be seen from the video above, they lunge that neck out a good distance, and shockingly fast, too.

I love the feet. On big individuals such as this, they can be nearly hand-sized. Check the size of those claws! He could probably give one a good thrashing with those, too. Fortunately, snappers are surprisingly docile when in the water - their normal haunts. They usually only leave ponds and wetlands during breeding season, when they seek sites to dig burrows for their eggs. Out of water, they are quite nasty and belligerent, and best admired from a safe distance.

An angle one doesn't often see. We tipped the turtle over for some photos, and you can see how reduced in size the plastron (lower shell) is. Check the size of those legs. They are very powerful and can make holding one of these turtles all the more difficult, as they kick and squirm in an effort to dislodge their holder. The skin is incredible - thick, leathery, and covered with bumps.

The upper shell, or carapace, of a Snapping Turtle is not a thing of beauty. It is often slimy and algae-coated. Worse yet, snappers often have legions of leeches attached, and if you look closely at the above photo, you can see some attached to the shell. Turtle soup, of which this species is often used for, may taste good but some eaters might lose their appetites if they saw the turtle beforehand.


Anonymous said...

Thanks to you guys for giving us a closer look at this Snapper. As is everything in nature he, in his own way, is a work of art!
Gary Wayne

dAwN said...

Yikes...I have never seen a snapper up it was nice to see all of the photos and views and video to boot...