John Muir once wrote that “none of Nature’s landscapes are ugly so long as they are wild.” One could easily extend that thought to “Nature’s creatures.” I speak of this so you might be more open-minded the next time you see a snapping turtle.
One of the most universally despised animals of our area, the snapping turtle is also one of the most common and most successful. Yet, to love a thing you must know it, so here are a few interesting facts you need to know.
The largest snapping turtle on record had a shell that was 191⁄2 inches long; a giant when compared to any of our other local turtle species. We shouldn’t get carried away, however. Snappers never get to be as large as Galapagos tortoises. We must resist the temptation to make impressive animals sound even more impressive than they actually are.
The average person generally sees a snapping turtle when females come out of the water to lay their eggs. The snapping turtle is one of the most aquatic turtle species. Coming out on land is an artifact of reptilian reproduction, which requires that their eggs be laid out of the water.
Digging a nest
A female snapping turtle will look for well-drained soils that are up and away from any wet areas. The eggs need to be kept moist, so the female digs a nest with her hind feet. These nests are typically about 10 inches deep, which allows them to be warmed by the sun but not dried out by it. Into the nest the female deposits up to 40 eggs.
The eggs develop for about 90 days and when they finally hatch, the babies must dig themselves out. It is interesting to note that all turtle embryos develop so that the head is pointed toward the sky. In this way, the baby turtles just have to start digging without having to know which way is up.
As with most reptiles, young snapping turtles have yolk sacs that provide them with nourishment for a short time while they try to get their act together. When they finally do start to feed, they will eat insects and other invertebrates, carrion and aquatic plants.
As the turtles grow, they will also be able to eat fish, frogs, birds, and small mammals. The bigger a turtle gets, the more likely it is that it will get even bigger, until it finally reaches up to about 45 pounds.
It is important to remember that snapping turtles are natural predators, and there is nothing that makes them “evil.”
Anyone who doesn’t like snapping turtles should consider domestic cats. Unlike the wild turtles, domestic cats are an unnatural addition to the landscape. When released into the environment, domestic cats kill hundreds of millions of birds and small mammals every year, including cute animals like baby rabbits.
Yet we humans tolerate the murderous nature of our pets because they are “cute.” True as this is, we cannot allow ourselves to ignore what they are. Most important, however, is to remember that as uncuddly as they may be, snapping turtles are a natural part of the world. They are not good. They are not bad. They simply are.
So the next time you see a snapping turtle crossing the road, try to avoid hitting it. Why not admire it for being a big, old, successful animal that adds a little more flavor to the landscape in which we live?
Bill Danielson is a professional nature photographer and author living in Altamont. Contact him at www.speakingofnature.com.