Snapping a Snapping Turtle

Snapping turtles, Chelydra serpentina, are ugly brutes, and not to be messed with. I’ve never had good enough photos before to do a post about them, but now I have. One was crossing the road near my house this morning, and two nice people had stopped to help it cross, and prevent any cars from running it over. When it made it into the woods, I got my camera.

It was raining, so the shell looks shiny black, but when it is dry it is a dark brown, and this one was about 14 inches long. It has a long tail (above), and thick strong legs with huge claws (below):

and its body sort of oozes out from under the shell:

Unlike other turtles they can’t fully retract their heads and legs into their shell, so they display what Wikipedia calls “a combative disposition” when they feel threatened. They have been known to bite through a broomstick.

When the head is fully out, it is quite long, with a charmingly retroussé nose:

You can see if you look carefully that its upper lip has a sharp central beak , and it has little round nostrils:

They have remarkable eyes, with a sort of tortoiseshell iris, which seems appropriate.

They live in ponds, lakes and streams, and they can give a very nasty bite, so little children are warned not to dangle their toes in the water, just in case. They eat pretty much anything, about 1/3 plants and the rest fish, frogs, carrion, insects, crayfish, ducklings, you name it, including possibly children’s toes.

Like all turtles they sunbathe, to bring their body temperature up high enough for their metabolism to work properly. But they mainly sunbathe on the water’s surface, and quickly dive back down deep if they hear someone coming, so this is a rare look at one out of the water, not a great photo, and I’m not actually totally sure it is a Snapping Turtle rather than the much rarer endangered Blanding’s Turtle, but still:

Females do not breed for 15-20 years. They come up on land and find a nice sandy place to dig a suitable hole and lay 20-40 eggs, starting in April through to June, which may have been why this one was in the woods. I took this photo down in Massachusetts a few years ago; she has buried her eggs and is heading off, never to see her offspring again:

80% will be eaten by predators, such as raccoons and foxes, but for the lucky few, in the fall, after three to six months, the babies hatch:

Hard to believe that if this tiny creature lives for 100 years it can grow to 60 pounds (though most are between 10 and 35 pounds).

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