If you stroll along the marshes, creeks and rivers in the Greater Toronto Area in June, you may very well meet a Snapping Turtle out for its own walk. She usually has a more pressing purpose though: she’s likely moving to where she wants to lay her nest of eggs. I met this medium-sized Snapper last June. (I won’t mention where because Snapping Turtles on land are very vulnerable and I don’t want a licensed hunter to come and scoop it up.) I find Snapping Turtles very ugly but at the same time fascinating to look at and I kept an eye on this one for about half an hour while taking photos of flowers and birds nearby.
Be Kind to Snapping Turtles Trying to Lay Their Eggs
If you see a Snapping Turtle on land it is probably either looking for a place to lay its eggs or walking home after the job is done. If you have a dog or other animal with you, please keep it well back from the turtle. There’s no need to stress the Snapper. The female I saw was driven back into the water three times by off leash dogs. The owners were far behind and had no idea what their dog was chasing.
As she retreats you can see that she is shedding layers on some of her scutes. I have read that it’s not a good idea to lift a snapping turtle by its long knobby tail as it can damage the turtle’s spine and bones.
If the Snapping Turtle is trying to cross the road, consider helping it, but only if it is safe for you to do so. Don’t block traffic or put your own life at risk. Turtle supporters suggest always helping a turtle travel in the direction it was heading or it will just try again in a few minutes. Snappers, of course, can inflict a serious pinch on a person, so keep well clear of their head. If you lift it by the back of the shell, never by the tail, hold it well out from your body. It has a long neck and will probably try to reach your legs to bite. It can reach half way up the underside of its own shell, so don’t hold it by the middle. Their claws are also very strong and fairly sharp and they will kick viciously. Some rescuers suggest tugging it quickly onto a car floor mat or large piece of cardboard and then briskly dragging it across the road.
For more information, you can read http://kawarthaturtle.org/blog/get-involved/roads/. Please remember to be careful. Having a car kill a human and a turtle is not benefiting anyone, nor is getting a serious bite or scratch from a wild animal.
Discourage Hunting for Snapping Turtles
Personally, I can’t imagine wanting to eat something covered in mud and leaches that I’ve seen scavenge rotten dead fish off the bottom of a lake. However, many people do like to eat turtles in soups and stews. And right now it is still legal to catch Snapping Turtles in Ontario if you have the proper fishing license.
If you are trying to judge the size of this turtle, that lens cap is 95mm (3.75 inches) in diameter.
The problem is that Snapping Turtles aren’t doing terribly well. Everywhere humans live or camp, the population of raccoons and skunks increases dramatically. Raccoons, unfortunately, love to dig up and eat turtle eggs. The unnaturally high numbers of raccoons are a problem for the turtles. Add human hunting to that and Snapping Turtle populations are under stress.
Given the huge numbers of other foods available to the average Canadian, I’d suggest skipping the turtle soup. It would be nice for your great-grand children to be able to enjoy the ugliness of a Snapper, too.
Do you see Snapping Turtles in June when they emerge from their watery homes to lay their eggs? Please share your sighting with a comment (and maybe send it in to Turtle Tally too!)