We had a Close Encounter with a Snapping Turtle this afternoon. There are links to two videos in this post, and you should watch them.
She was, of all places, inside the pony's pen up at the stables. No doubt she is looking for a safe place to lay her eggs... but the pony's house isn't a good choice. Eggs laid there would be squished by the movement of the horses in that enclosure.
While that's not a safe nursery for turtles-to-be, it was also an unsafe place for Squeegee. While he was quite fascinated by this "moving rock" that had suddenly appeared in his quarters, he made the mistake of getting a little too up close and personal. Snappers on land can be feisty. You need to exercise great caution if you are moving one. Squeegee exercised more interest than caution.
And paid the price. He was still curious after this encounter, but as you can see in the photo, he was much more careful to observe from a safe distance!
David came out, wearing heavy gloves, to help me move this lady. She was very big, and very heavy. We thought that moving her back to the lake would be the best plan.
You can watch Operation Turtle Relocation here, as David picks her up and puts her in a big plastic tub for transport. Forget everything you've heard about turtles being slow -- check out how fast she can snap and attack! (you can't blame her -- she has no way to know we're trying to do her a favour, and on land she is vulnerable. We get that, and forgive her for the display of bad manners)
Once back at the lake, you can watch her leave the bucket here at the completion of Operation Turtle Transfer. You can hear her hiss at me...
|in the big bucket, but not keen on staying there!|
|this old gal was probably swimming about in Lake of |
Bays before our grandparents moved here in 1905.
Today’s snapping turtles have hardly changed from 215 million years ago when Proganochelys, the most primitive turtle known, lived. Proganochelys had already most features of today’s turtles, although it was unable to pull its head and legs into its shell. (come to that, neither can our modern snapping turtle) In comparison the age of the dinosaurs was approximately 150 million years ago, 100 million years more recent than the first turtle. Turtles were one of the few reptile groups, which survived the impact of a six mile wide meteorite on earth and the following nuclear winter about 65 million years ago, which is known as the K-T boundary.
While the ancestor turtles were tinkering with designs of shell and size of turtle, the design of the snapping turtle as we know it today dates hasn't changed for 40 million years. These are creatures who are entitled to regard the brontosaur and mastodon as brief zoological fads. Humans have been around about 3.5 million years. Snappers are still trying to figure out "us newcomers."
|you can clearly see the sharp"beak" and |
nostrils - and the inside of the mouth. Not a
view you want to get close to!
When you look at one, you are getting a glimpse back into an extremely distant past.
You have to respect these turtles -- with their heavy, pointed beaks capable of snapping off a small branch and their five massive claws on each foot, they are formidable swimmers and hunters. Luckily they are non-aggressive towards people -- unless they are cornered on land or you are pestering them. In the water, around swimmers, they will just slip away. Best to just let them be. Snapping turtles can weight up to 40 pounds (18 kg) and be about 14" (36 cm) long in their rough carapace.
While they do have to surface to breathe, they can rest underwater for up to four HOURS... try holding your breath, and you'll be impressed right away by this ability. They can live well over 75 years, with some reports of individuals who are well over 100. Some, reportedly, can make it to 200 and more. They've been around.
|there is some old damage to the rear of the|
shell -- at some point, she got into trouble!
You count the rings in the shell, rather like counting tree rings, to determine age, since they continue to grow throughout their lifetime. Since they are so long lived, they don't begin to breed until they are about 19 years old. And here's a funky fact: the female can hold the sperm in her body for several seasons, so if she doesn't find a mate the following year (or years) she can still produce fertile eggs.
The greatest threat to this species is now the car -- they get hit when they come out to the edge of the roads in spring to lay their eggs. And since it is the females that are out there, getting struck by cars, this is a big concern for the population. So if you spot a turtle on the road, slow down, go around them. It would be a shame if a species whose ancestors survived the meteor strike that wiped out the dinosaurs were to succumb under the wheels of a Smartcar...
|That snapping jaw can generate enough force to shear|
off a finger... never pick one up with your hands in
Slow down... give turtles a brake! They are an essential part of our ecosystem and work hard to help maintain water quality and keep lakes clean by eating dead matter. We need them, and their habitat, to regulate water quality and quantity, and ensure the survival of fish and wildlife, as well as our own health and well-being.
If you want to learn more about these amazing reptiles, the best website we've found is the Tortoise Trust.
|Wise Old Turtle|
The female lays up to 24 eggs -- and occasionally as many as 50! in the spring, and then goes away and leaves the hidden nest and the newly hatched turtles, to fend for themselves when they hatch in 80 to 90 days' time, usually in September and October. The sex of the turtle is determined by the temperature in the nest. Below a certain temperature, the turtles will be males. Above it, females. Easy to remember, because the dudes are cool and the chicks are hot...
And our snapper was much happier to be back by the lake shore, away from that pesky pony, and the two-legged creatures that were distressing her. Good luck, Lady!