Dinosaurs in the Street
I was strolling over to retrieve my daughter for dinner from a neighbor’s house. A classic move on her part, forgetting we told her to be home in a half hour. I think I saw it in my peripheral vision first, something pegging my monkey brain there was something amiss and telling me it was in the middle of the road. I thought at first someone had dropped their purse or maybe a curved piece of bark from firewood. Then it moved and I realized it definitely was not a purse.
It only took me a few steps to identify it as a small to medium sized snapping turtle hanging out in the middle of the road but pointed towards our small retention pond less than a hundred yards away. It’s not very often you get to see a snapper out of water. I took some time to admire it. I usually prefer to let wildlife do it’s thing but in this case I decided to help it to the pond. First, I didn’t want it to get run over. Second, there were younger kids around who might think it was fun to “play with the nice turtle.” A box turtle, sure. A snapping turtle? Not a good idea.
Snapping turtles are known for being aggressive. If you’ve ever dealt with one you know exactly what I’m talking about. The largest one I’ve seen was about three time this one’s size and probably weighed close to thirty or forty pounds. It was also, at the time, looking to take a finger, hand or foot from anyone that dared bother it. They are also very strong especially compared to say a box turtle or a softback. They’re simply packed with muscle. It’s what also makes them good eating in certain circles.
It’s really hard to describe how cool an ancient snapper looks. Even this younger one LOOKED like a dinosaur. Oh… wait… it IS a dinosaur. More than that, these creatures outlasted the dinosaurs. They’ve barely changed for 215 million years. They’re dinosaurs in the same way as crocodiles and alligators and here it was, right here, in a parking lot. A perfect example of appreciating nature, history and evolution all rolled up into one moment.
I should not have to say this but if you happen to come across a snapping turtle in your own adventures then by all means stay away from the mouth. If you’ve been dying to lose a finger or a thumb to a wild reptile then this creature is on the top of the list. They love that stuff. They go home and write their family about how many fingers they were able to bite off this week. They celebrate and have little snapping turtle parties in the mud at night every time one of their kind gets a human finger. I’m serious! It’s true!
If you’re going to try and move a snapping turtle always grab it from the rear part of the shell. Unlike other turtles, snappers can extend their neck a good distance so they can go up and over their shell. A not so nice surprise for someone who thinks they’ll just walk up and lift it up like a kind and gentle box turtle. You can also grab the base of it’s tail but I don’t recommend it since it can damage the turtle. If you don’t have to move it then, please, take the advice of leaving it the hell alone. They prefer it.
“Snapping turtles, embodiment of turtles who shared the earth with the dinosaurs for a time and are now obliged to share it with the human species, might well report that the former companions were far less stressful.” –The Year of The Turtle, A Natural History
As if to support the quote above, I took a few pics and let curious kids take a close look while warning them about it’s behavior. And, yes, I even poked it with a stick to show them how aggressive they can be. Nothing a brontosaurus would have done and I’m sure a raptor would have just been honest and simply tore into it for lunch.
It was then time to get it in the pond and again this species’ strength surprised me. Right after I had a hold of the back of it’s shell, I went to lift it and it kicked out with it’s feet. It was if a full grown adult had just yanked it out of my hand. So surprising for something so small. The kids and one curious parent were also impressed. The snapping turtle was past irritated and went into full blown “eat a finger” mode. It hissed and spun around on me but then held it’s ground.
Since I had children watching and I was trying to set a good example I opted to not try a repeat performance. I also didn’t want to be responsible for any emotional scarring on the part of the children if I suddenly lost a finger and had blood spurting everywhere. Asking the present adult to keep an eye on things I went home and retrieved the official “Snapping Turtle Movement Assistant” – otherwise known as the STMA or a snow shovel.
With a scoop the snapper was on his way to the pond and the kids were waving goodbye (also something a raptor wouldn’t do.) I found an open spot and as I lowered it down the turtle smelled the water quickly. It scrambled out of the STMA, wasting no time heading into the water.
I took comfort in helping a dinosaur along it’s way as well as knowing there would be no finger-trophy dance parties in turtle-land that night.