Tuesday, June 10, 2008


While out in the hinterlands of Columbiana County surveying birds last Saturday, we came across two whopping big Snapping Turtles, Chelydra serpentina. They were big, old, and ill-tempered. Snappers can live for fifty years, grow to 18 inches in length, and supposedly reach fifty pounds in weight.

Surly looking old boy, isn't he? He's got some battle scars, too - look at that tear in the front of his carapace. Nonetheless, he was being a faithful husband, and remaining near the female who was in the process of excavating a burrow for her eggs nearby. Snapping Turtles are rather clumsy and awkward on land, and the terrestrial life is definitely not their bag. Look at the mitts on this thing - those are paws made for swimming! In the water, snappers are as fluid and graceful as an eel, although they spend much of their time semi-buried in the mire at the bottom of ponds, waiting for some hapless victim to wander by.

Closeup of the lovely Missus. You wouldn't want to put your finger too near that snapper. I teased the big boy a bit with a stick, so everyone could see how they came by their name. WHAP! Quick as lightning, he lunged that long neck out and hit that stick, far quicker than any person could hope to react. While tales of them snapping broom sticks in two are greatly exaggerated, a bite on the finger would not feel very good. I've never been comfortable handling these things, but supposedly the best way to do so is to put your foot on their back, holding them down, and pick them up by the tail. Taking pains to hold the turtle well away from any part of your body that you wish to keep free of snaps.

The business end of the female, at least when it comes to laying eggs. She was in the process of digging a hole for the eggs. Snapping Turtles rarely leave the water, and when one is spotted far from the water on land, it is probably looking for a place to dig an egg chamber in the soil and lay eggs. They use their powerful rear legs to excavate the pit, and will deposit up to 80 round white eggs, each about an inch long. Many of these nests are later discovered by Raccoons and dug up for food. Very few snapper eggs ever make it to the magnificent beast stage of this adult female; mortality is very high.

While Snapping Turtles are certainly not our most beautiful animals, and definitely not the most pleasant of temperament, they are still fascinating reptiles. When I get to see them up close and personal, as with these two, the word prehistoric always pops instantly to mind. They are like living relicts of the Dinosaur age.

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