Snapping Turtle

Post date: Aug 04, 2011 2:30:59 PM

I recently received a phone call from someone that claimed she had “the granddaddy of all snapping turtles” in her driveway. She didn’t know if it would harm her dog and wanted to know if I would come and get it.

What she actually had was a “big mama” snapping turtle looking for a place to lay her eggs. Common snapping turtles spend almost all of their time in the water. Occasionally they will come out to bask in the sunshine, but for the most part, all people ever see of them are their heads as they come up to take a breath. In the spring, however, mature females will leave the safety of the ponds and lakes to lay their round, leathery eggs in dry, underground nests. Because turtles need to breathe air, choosing a site that even occasionally gets flooded with water would mean the young could possibly drown before hatching. This forces turtles to seek out nest sites on high ground.

Common snappers will walk quite a ways from the lowland of the pond, crossing streets and even moving into residential areas where soft garden soil makes the digging easy. At this time, all they really care about is finding an appropriate site for their nest, laying their eggs and getting back to the water. Female snappers will not guard or protect their nests after laying their eggs. They are so good at covering their tracks that unless they are actually caught in the act of egg-laying, most people don’t even know they were there.

My advice to my caller was to keep her small dog away from the turtle which was surely going to move on in a relatively short amount of time. While that turtle was most likely not interested in a meal, anything that harasses a snapping turtle is taking a risk of getting a nasty bite. I extend the same advice to anyone encountering a snapping turtle on the road. If she is making good progress crossing on her own, leave her alone. If she is sitting still and you wish to help her across, do not pick her up by her tail. That can be very painful to the turtle and even cause damage to the spine. They can be picked up by the back of the shell or the back legs. Just make sure you stay away from the mouth which is attached to a neck that can reach at least to the middle of the turtle’s back when fully extended. Also, move a turtle to the side of the road in the direction she was heading or she will end up right back in the middle again after you drive away.

Last, but not least, Brillion Nature Center does not have the staff or the permits necessary to retrieve wildlife from people’s homes or yards. If the animal isn’t causing any direct problems or threats, a little time is all most critters need in order to move off on their own.