By Dave Sigworth, publicist of The Maritime Aquarium
It’s that time of year when you might find a snapping turtle in your garden.
Behold, the turtle that time forgot.
If other freshwater turtles species received “modernizing” makeovers over the last several hundred thousand years, the common snapping turtle apparently found them to be unnecessary.
These creatures don’t crawl up into your yard out of a pond; they crawl up out of the Early Pleistocene.
But crawl up they do, especially each May and June, when females leave the water to look for a place to dig a hole and lay their eggs.
Baby snapping turtles will hatch two to three months later and make their way to water, where they’ll live almost their entire lives.
Common snapping turtles (Chelydra sepentina) are … well … common in Connecticut and New York. (In fact, they are the state reptile of New York.) Still, they face a number of challenges. Many females are hit by cars as they cross roads looking for nesting spots. Eggs and young turtles are preyed upon by raccoons, skunks, coyotes and even crows. And people kill turtles out of fear, which is unnecessary. Like most wild animals, they’re aggressive only when they feel threatened – and, for snapping turtles, they’re most vulnerable when they’re out of water. (In the water, bites of unsuspecting swimmers are unheard of.)
Now, it doesn’t seem that a turtle should be the kind of animal that can bite your finger off. But snapping turtles can (and can do it frighteningly faster than you would expect), so we can’t emphasize enough that you should never try to handle one; not even by picking one up by its dragon-like tail. If one comes into your yard, give her – and her nest – some space.
Snapping turtles are found in eastern Canada and the central and eastern U.S., throughout Mexico and down into Central America. They prefer still, slow and shallow waters with vegetation to hide in, but can be found at the edges of deeper lakes and rivers.
They usually don’t bask in the sun like many freshwater turtle species. They also can’t withdraw into their shell like other turtles. (Thus, snapping is their means of defense.)
Snapping turtles will each just about anything they can catch, as well as some plants and dead animals.
It’s believed they can live 40 to 50 years, and grow to 60 pounds.
If you don’t live in a neighborhood where a female snapping turtle might bury her eggs in your yard, come to The Maritime Aquarium, where we display a 7-year-old male. You’ll find him in our Watershed gallery. His name is Franklin.