Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Snapping Turtle

While looking for amphibian eggs, I circled a small pond by our cemetery and nearly stepped on a rounded grey rock laying in the boggy leaf-covered mud.  I had to look twice to confirm that this rock was capable of movement.  It looked like it had a coating of dried algae and only a faint turn of its head betrayed the presence of a big snapping turtle.

We watched each other for several minutes.  When I got out my camera, it raised its chin some, following me only with its eyes.  Only when it was convinced that I was there to stay did it slowly turn and amble off as seen in this video I posted on Youtube.


By the time I got back to the house and described it to Barb it had grown to 16" long, but measuring it with a stick a few days later, it came in at a little under a foot.  Snapping turtles are said to rarely bask in the sun.  This however was the first warm day after a long cold snap and there was no sign of egg laying so I suspect it was just enjoying some down time.

Salamander eggs stranded on bank
Since then I visit the pond daily and can usually see a little of its carapace buried in the leaf litter in the foot deep middle of the clear pond.  I have counted 25 spotted salamander egg masses around the edge, green with the internal algae providing oxygen to the eggs.  As the pond drained down some they were stranded in the moist mud.  I was torn between leaving them on the edge vulnerable to skunks and raccoons or tossing them back a few inches into the water even though my new friend might still feed on some of them.

I have a confession to make.  In 1996, having just bought our place on Bull Creek, I found a snapping turtle laboriously crawling across the field headed, I thought, for the creek.  I had always heard that they could wipe out all the fish in a pool and responded by taking its life.  I now know that they represent no significant danger to the fish population in the creek and still feel a little guilt over this barbarous act.

I went ahead and put the salamander eggs back into the pond several inches from shore, planning on moving them often if needed.  If the turtle gets a few, I figure I owe it one.  Snapping turtles can live for 40 years in the wild and the one I killed 17 years ago may have been its loved one. 

Aside from taking naps and enjoying the water, the snapping turtle and I share another trait - we are both totally omnivorous.  According to the MDC online field guide they eat "insects, crayfish, fish, snails, earthworms, amphibians, snakes, small mammals and birds. However, up to a third of the diet may consist of aquatic vegetation. Carrion may also be consumed."  They kill other turtles by decapitation, either as a protection of territory or an inefficient form of feeding.


Now I routinely stop to check on my new friend.  It is always buried in the leaves of the pond, minding its own business.  I can only hope it can forgive my past ignorant brutality to its family.

More detail is available at tortoisetrust.org.

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