What is this Really Ugly Creature Blinking at Me from the Rattray Marsh in Mississauga, Ontario?

The footbridge is still being replaced on the main creek trail at the Rattray Marsh in Mississauga. (At least it was in mid-June 2013 when I wrote this.) It’s a bit disappointing as that trail often enables glimpses into the daily lives of birds and beasts. So on my recent visit I focused most of my attention on the section of trail closest to the Old Poplar Road parking spaces. And I found an odd animal.

The Watcher is Watched

Photo of Ugly Unknown Animal on NaturalCrooksDotCom

There’s a big drainage culvert under the path that protrudes into a cattail marsh. I always walk out on the ridged pipe to get a closer look at everything. As children, my brother caught some of his best two-year-old Bullfrog tadpoles in just this type of culvert. Looking down this time, I found someone looking back up at me!

At first I thought it was a toad. It was the same mud brown colouring with wrinkly uneven skin. It was bigger than my fist by a fair amount so I thought it was a very old toad.

It’s a Toad….Isn’t it?

But then I had a few second thoughts. If it was a toad, where were the legs? Surely that couldn’t just be the head of a toad; it would have to be monstrous. And why were the knobs and bumps so small? Toad warts are quite prominent, especially on older animals.

When Golden Eyes are Beady

Photo of Snapping Turtle Eyes on NaturalCrooksDotCom

I puzzled over it as I continued on my walk, then looked again on my return. It was still there. Now, though, it had changed angles a bit and I could see its eyes. Toads are noted for their large golden eyes that stick up like ball bearings on top of their head. Some frogs, I know, can push their eyes into the head to help push food down their throat. Maybe this was a toad doing that? But it didn’t look like that.

The Nose Says No’s

And then, to top it off, for one brief second I could clearly see two very small pink nostrils. Toads do have nostrils but I doubt they look like these.

Photo of Snapping Turtle Nose on NaturalCrooksDotCom

All along another possibility had flitted in and out of my thoughts like a hunting gnatcatcher. Maybe, just maybe, this was a turtle. A very large turtle if that was the head. And given the lack of colourful markings and the blunt wedge shape the type of turtle that kept surfacing in my mind was Snapper.

Trust in Turtle Tally

Never one to trust my own judgment when I can call on an expert’s, I sent an email with photos off to Turtle Tally, a program run in cooperation with the Toronto Zoo.

Photo of Snapping Turtle Closeup on NaturalCrooksDotCom

The answer flew back: Yes! It was a Snapping Turtle. Apparently Snappers are now listed as a species at risk in Ontario. One this size is always a welcome sight.

So I wrote up my report and submitted it to Turtle Tally for the researchers’ database.
And aside from continuing to puzzle about which direction the turtle must have been lying in (my personal opinion is that it was on a diagonal down into the soft murk and muck) I closed the case of the Ugly Animal. (I’m sure it thought I was pretty gruesome to look at too!)

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ave you seen any Snappers this year? Were they crossing the road or eating your prize Walleye off the stringer at the end of your dock? Please share your experiences with a comment.

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