Snapping Turtle

2016 June 25

On the evening of June 11, 2016, I was driving our little pickup truck back home along Canal Road, and kind of casually noticed what looked like a rock beside the road. And as I passed it, suddenly realized, “Hey, that rock looked like it had a head! And a tail!” So, I immediately pulled over, ran back, and saw this fine individual getting ready to unintentionally commit suicide by trying to cross a busy road:


Well, I couldn’t very well leave it there to a grisly demise in traffic, so I picked it up, put it in the back of the truck, and brought it home so that Sandy and the girls could see it.


It was very obviously a smallish Common Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentina. One needs to be careful around snapping turtles, their necks are almost as long as their shells, and they can shoot out their heads and take a chunk out of you very quickly if you don’t watch it. I’ve never been bitten by a snapping turtle, and would like to keep it that way, so we didn’t try taunting it to get it to stick its neck out. It just glared balefully at us.


When handling a snapping turtle, it is very important not to grab it any further forward than the middle of the shell, because if you do it will be able to reach you, and there will be blood. Sometimes people pick them up by the tail, which is pretty safe for the person, but this could injure the turtle because the tail is not all that thick and the turtle is pretty heavy. It is best to just grab them by the rear part of the shell. Watch out doing this, though, because if they notice you getting close, they can wheel around with surprising speed and next thing you know you’re missing a finger[1].

The shell on the underside is not nearly as complete as for most other turtles, which makes snappers faster and more agile than you would expect for a turtle. You can see here that this one was only a bit bigger than my hand. They can get pretty large, though. I’ve seen some in the past that have shells nearly two feet across[2], and weigh maybe 40 pounds or so.


Sometimes when you find snapping turtles roaming around, it is because they are females looking for a place to lay eggs, but this one was kind of small to be a mature female. I expect it was just generally moseying around looking for a likely pond to take up residence in.

So, anyway, after getting pictures we took it back to the swamp in the woods, and let it go.


Where it promptly swam off into the water. The swamp is full of big tadpoles and little fish, so the turtle will probably do just fine in there. There are not many things that will prey on a snapping turtle once they get to this size, so maybe we’ll see it again someday when it gets bigger.[3]

[1] The safest way to handle a snapping turtle, is not to. Or to get somebody else to do it.

[2] Probably the biggest one was one that Sandy and I saw years ago while fishing in the Pike River. It just came cruising down the middle of the stream, shell barely poking out of the water, and the head up like a snorkel. We didn’t try to catch it. And then, a few weeks later, we were there again with one of Sandy’s friends. Sandy and I were on one side of the bridge, and the friend was on the other, when suddedly we heard this loud, explosive splash, and the friend started yelling, “My bobber! It took my bobber!”. We never did find the bobber again. I rather expect it was the same turtle.

[3] It is relatively easy to keep snappers in captivity. My aunt had one for years that she caught back when it was just a little hatchling the size of a half-dollar coin. She kept it in a washtub with just enough water to cover its shell, and fed it cat food[4]. When she finally released it years later, it was probably a foot across the shell.

[4] According to the Wikipedia page, snappign turtles are omnivores, not obligate carnivores, so they can eat lots of different things. Our little friend here should get a lot of good browsing down in our swamp.

One Response
  1. June 26, 2016

    Way cool!

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