The turtle rescue happened just days before Halloween. Third shift employees were leaving work at a large convention center on an urban waterfront when the small, snapping turtle was discovered in the parking lot, moving quickly, trying to make the water’s edge. The turtle, which likely just hatched, was in a dangerous situation. But the turtle was scooped up, placed in an empty coffee cup, and was soon on it’s way to a rural location after a search for other turtles in the bustling parking lot proved unsuccessful.
Months earlier, the eggs were laid somewhere in the vicinity of the urban parking lot. Female snapping turtles will leave the water, travel on land in the May and June to lay their eggs, a dozen or more eggs. The adult female will dig a small hole, deposit her eggs and cover them with dirt before she returns to the water, never to return to her nest. It takes approximately ninety days for the hatch to happen.
In some communities and state’s, road signs near areas where the turtles will commonly cross are posted during the egg laying season “Caution – Turtle Crossing”. Many times, snappers, and many other species of native turtles, are forced to cross highways and roads in search of a nesting area. Snappers, which are largely nocturnal, are found throughout much of the United States and Canada; and waterfronts are busy places in many communities.
Eighty to ninety days later, when the eggs hatch, it is difficult to see the young turtles, when they emerge, and then journey back to water. That is, if they were even lucky enough to survive the incubation period. Among the predators which will destroy a turtle nest are raccoons, opossums, skunks and even rats are fond of turtle eggs. Interestingly, the sex of the hatchling snapping turtle is determined by summer’s temperature. During a cool summer, most will be males, during a hot summer, the majority will be female.
The Halloween hatchling is likely a female, 2010 was one of the hottest summers on record.
For many residents in rural areas, the snapping turtle is a much more common sight during the nesting season and in fresh water ponds in the summer months where the turtle spends much of it’s life. Most folks have a readily handy story about an encounter.
Snappers can be aggressive when threatened, they can strike quickly and even hiss and stand on their hind legs; they are known for their ferocious temper when provoked or threatened. It’s best just to leave them alone. Snapping turtles can inflict serious bodily harm.
Snapping turtles do have a Halloween look. Snapping turtles are technically known as Chelydra serpintina. As to appearances, they look like prehistoric creatures, which they are are; they have been around since at least the era of the dinosaurs.
They can be distinguish by their hooked mouth, akin to a parrot beak, and protrusions on their chin called barbels. Snappers also have long necks, so if they must be handled be careful and hold the animal by the shell far enough away from it’s twisting neck.
Adult snappers have a smooth upper shell called the carapace. Small turtles have bumpy ridges on the upper shell; these tooth like bumps are called keels. The bottom shell is called the plastron. Surprisingly, the snapper cannot hide entirely inside it’s shell for protection, perhaps that explains it’s ill temper.
Snappers, are generally a brown or black color and frequently have algae or moss on their shell. They spend most of their time in the mud at the bottom of just about any fresh water pond, swamp, marsh, or even creek; the moss or algae helps to provide natural cover while hunting while resting in the silt or mud. They will eat just about anything from tadpoles to frogs, fish, crayfish, even small water fowl, as well as a wide variety of different water vegetation, which research as shown, is much of their diet.
Snapping turtles can live for up to forty years and can grow to about a foot or larger in length. Common snappers are different than the southern alligator snappers, which were almost driven to extinction by over harvesting for the turtle meat trade. Today, the commercial turtle meat trade is non-existent.
While some still use the common snapper for table use, primarily for turtle soup, it is best to check with local wildlife officials on regulations. It is also important to check with local agencies about consumption recommendations; some could be harvested from areas known for the presence of dangerous toxins.
Try never to confront, and if one does need to be handled, always make sure to wash your hands. The salmonella bacteria could be present. Young children should be watched closely when they are near one of the turtles.
But if your lucky enough to own property or enjoy property where snappers live, enjoy these prehistoric animals which play an important role in the important wetlands and watershed areas. They are an amazing and important natural species.
The Halloween hatchling, rescued from an urban waterfront, is now living in an isolated rural pond, hopefully for many more Halloweens to come.