A Turtle on a Mission

Natural History Post of the Month – Snapping Turtle

It has been an interesting summer on our little piece of Tennessee, at least with respect to reptiles. We have encountered several different lizards and snakes but yesterday was our first turtle. Out on the far end of the yard, not far from “Woodhenge,” near the ditch we prefer to call a creek, was a female Snapping Turtle in the process of laying her eggs.

Snapping Turtle discovered in yard laying eggs

Snapping Turtle discovered in yard laying eggs

From the looks of her shell, this was no youngster. Snapping Turtles are not cute and definitely not cuddly.

This turtle was on a mission and she was not going to be distracted nor interrupted by our curiosity and picture taking, or even a cautiously curious cat. Since the turtle would not run, the cat lost interest.

She had dug a bowl-shaped hole with her back legs and was laying eggs—one or two every minute or two.

She laid about twenty ping-pong ball sized eggs. After she deposited two or three eggs, she would reach in the hole with one hind leg and rearrange the eggs to make room for more.

Egg laying in progress

Egg laying in progress

After she finished laying the eggs, she immediately went to work scooping dirt back into the hole, covering the eggs. It is interesting that she can do all of this purely through instinct, since she cannot see what she is doing.

After the last egg is laid, she begins to cover the eggs

After the last egg is laid, she begins to cover the eggs

Snapping Turtle eggs hatch in 60 to 80 days, depending upon temperatures. The baby turtles have to fend for themselves from the time they hatch. The one-year survival rate of baby turtles in on the order of fifteen percent. Additionally, there is a real danger that raccoons or skunks may dig up and eat the eggs. Once in the water, small turtles become prey for herons, large bass and other predators.

If a Snapper is fortunate enough to escape being caught or run over, they can live to be more than 100 years old.

It’s Time for Your Close-Up

Snapping Turtles continue to grow throughout their lives. This average-sized turtle had a ten-inch shell.

“What are you looking at?”

Snapping turtles are not to be played with. Their jaws are very sharp and very strong, and they are also very quick. They can extend their necks several inches and snap more quickly than most people can react. If it is necessary to move/remove a snapping turtle, avoiding its head, grasp it firmly by the tail and lift. The tail is tough and muscular, and the snapping turtle cannot reach back far enough to bite. Hold the turtle well away from your body, other people and animals. An angry snapper does not care who it bites.

Snappers are essentially aquatic except to come ashore to lay eggs or climb up on a log or bank to sun themselves. As reptiles, they rely on their environment and the sun for bodily warmth.

Another snapper I encountered along the edge of a pond in New Jersey, sunning itself

Another snapper I encountered along the edge of a pond in New Jersey, sunning itself

I hate to mention it, but Snapping Turtle soup (or Snapper soup) is considered a delicacy in parts of the country. There was a time when even I made a little money catching Snapping Turtles and selling them to a local fish house—a place where they purchased locally caught fish and turtles for resale (see 1960 – How to Earn Money for a Date).

And for those that have to know, the Snapping Turtle’s scientific name is: Chelydra serpentina.

Account of Snapping Turtle laying eggs in the yard.

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3 Responses to A Turtle on a Mission

  1. axelan says:

    Amazing that you caught this. What Luck!

  2. merlinjr01 says:

    Indeed. Now if I can just be there when they begin to hatch. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Actually, Axel, Peggy discovered this turtle as she was walking about one morning. Jeff was truly lucky to capture the laying of the eggs cause he didn’t get around to it for several hours. I took some pictures early on but he got the good ones, I am afraid I don’t have the patience he apparently does. I feel the same way about shooting pictures in the OR at the birth of a child, just seems like no place for that, however, laying eggs may not be quite as invasive a procedure, at least he didn’t have to turn that turtle upside down.

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