Saturday, May 30, 2009

Common Snapping Turtle

The Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina serpentina) is prevalent throughout Missouri as well as most of the United States, Nova Scotia and Ontario. These are a very large aquatic turtle. They will be found in Rivers, ponds, lakes and most any other permanent body of water. They can reach lengths of up to 19 inches and weigh as much as 35 pounds. A Massachusetts record still stands with a specimen weighing in at 76.5 pounds. This behemoth was captured in 1988. Females are generally larger than males. Their color varies from tan, brown or black. Often they are found with algae or mud on their shells. You will encounter these turtles on the road, generally speaking this is the female looking for a suitable sight to lay her eggs. Although sometimes the males will also travel overground if the watering hole they were residing in suddenly dries up. They are often hit by automobiles and it is common to see their carcasses on the highways. These turtles are very aggressive when out of the water. They will lunge and snap their jaws in a menacing fashion if bothered. In the first picture you can see it biting at a stick waved in its face. Once a few years back while driving in the country we noticed one in the middle of the gravel road. We stopped the car to get out and take a closer look. My son walked right up to it and this turtle jumped two feet straight at him. It scared the crud out of my son, and he jumped back, almost falling in the process. None of us expected that kind of response. Once my son recovered, he found it to be funny, and continued to approach the turtle and each time the turtle would launch himself at my son. After a few times of this harassment I told my son we should leave the poor thing alone. In the water they are rarely if ever this aggressive and will usually avoid confrontation with people. Often hiding or fleeing. It would be rare for one to bite while in the water. I remember my grandfather telling me many years ago that he had read; if you ever are bitten by a snapping turtle to stick a straw up its nose and it will let go of you. I thought that was so funny, I was trying to imagine this huge turtle clamped onto my foot and me having the ability to not only think of doing this but being able to. After all who carries a straw with him while swimming in a lake, pond or river? I suppose it would be effective, it would be hard to clamp down on something effectively if you have something stuck up your nose. I doubt that much else would encourage it to release you once it had a hold of you. Their bite is very strong. The only safe way to grab one of these snappy turtles is by the tail, taking great care to keep track of the business end, and not let those jaws get too close to legs or other body parts. From many years of misinformation and misunderstandings concerning these turtles they are often persecuted and destroyed. Many people mistakenly believe that they are harmful to fish populations and water fowl. While they will eat fish they are rarely cause for concern. There are circumstances where they may become a nuisance and may have to be controlled. Such as in the case where fish or water fowl are being over produced in a pond or lake. There is small lagoon in St. Joseph at Krug Park. This lagoon is overrun with goldfish and water fowl. I remember a few years back while eating lunch at the park I heard a commotion in the water, I went to get a closer look to see what was going on. It was then that I saw a Canada Goose being pulled under the water by some unseen force. After three tugs this goose disappeared underwater and I saw the back of the turtle. This was an extremely large turtle. I found it hard to believe it could be a common snapping turtle. Another day at the lagoon I was feeding the ducks when a snapper emerged right below me and took a full slice of bread floating on top the water. This turtle was HUGE! I fully believe that someone placed an Alligator Snapping Turtle in this lagoon. They are larger than Common Snappers. They are residents of Missouri but rarely found this far north in the state. Someone would have had to relocate one captured in another portion of the state which is highly likely. The Alligator snapper can reach weights of up to 150 pounds with a record of 316 pounds having been recorded. In Missouri because of their decline in numbers the Alligator snapping turtle is listed as a species of conservation concern. Breeding between common snapping turtles usually takes place from April to November, with most mating taking place in spring or early summer. Mating takes place in the water. Typically egg laying takes place in June. Females look for suitable sites wherethey can dig a nest about 4 to 7 inches deep and deposit their eggs. She may lay up to 30 eggs and it is possible for them to lay more than one clutch of eggs. The eggs resemble ping pong balls in size and are cream colored. After hatching, they will seeking a nearby water source. Males reach sexual maturity in about 4 to 5 years, females may take up to 7 years. Many nests are destroyed by predators such as skunks, raccoons and mink. They will overwinter by burying themselves in the mud in shallow bodies of water. Once active again in the spring they will begin eating and looking for mates. The diet of a snapping turtle is quite varied and includes , insects, crawdads, snakes, fish, small mammals, birds, snails, earthworms, frogs, and aquatic vegetation, also water fowl in certain conditions. Many people eat these turtles and report that the meat is very good, especially in soups and stews. I have not had the privilege of trying it, but I suppose one day the opportunity will present itself. I can't bring myself to loathe these turtles as many people do. I think they are a misunderstood underdog. They are important to their ecosystem and should be respected and not deliberately destroyed and left laying in the sun to rot.

1 comment:

  1. Just found your blog entry after a middle-of-the-road encounter with a common snapping turtle. I stopped the car and got out. I then picked it up with two sticks and got it off the road and about 20 feet closer to the creek it must have come from.
    I had never seen one up close before, and boy was it mean! Plus it's the closest thing to a living dinosaur I've ever personally encountered - scary and amazing at the same time. Wish I'd read your blog first, though! I wouldn't have gotten so close to it at first. I didn't know they could jump!!! Thanks for your blog entry - very informative. Jen, St. Joe MO