Grist for spinners of tall tales, snapping turtles are on the verge of becoming endangered. May these reptiles of prehistoric visage long patrol our wetlands.
Stories of monster snappers abound. Generally they begin, “You wouldn’t believe the size…!” or, with hands held widely apart in fish-story fashion, “It had to be this big…!”
My favourite snapper story involved a family out for a quiet evening paddle. Loon laughter echoed off lakeside rock and dragonflies danced among the reeds. The family’s peaceful idyll came to an abrupt end, however, when something rudely rocked their boat.
As you’ve likely guessed, a giant snapping turtle was the culprit. It was intent on surfacing and the canoe just happened to be in the way. The snapper cast the boat off its back like so much flotsam, flipping the voyageurs into the drink.
There is a darker side to some of the tales told about snapping turtles – stories that are invented to demonize the beasts. This is a favourite tactic of people seeking to justify the violence they inflict on others, including their fellow animals.
With snapping turtles this violence sometimes includes intentionally running over one on the road or battering a wandering turtle senseless with the nearest blunt object.
One dark tale says that snapping turtles pose grave danger to people. This is slanderous nonsense.
Snapping turtles are not to be feared in the water where they at liberty to retreat quickly from any threat. Even on land, they “snap” only in defence. It would take effort to be bitten by one. You would need to offer your flesh to the snapper, an unlikely scenario unless you harbour masochistic tendencies.
Another odious tale holds that snapping turtles are deadly enemies of “game” fish. This is also nonsense. Healthy trout or bass can easily avoid snapping turtles. Instead snappers act as aquatic sanitation engineers, cleaning our waters by eating dead and dying fish.
Snapping turtles are now a “species of concern,” according to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. This means that they may become endangered in the future because of current threats to their existence.
These threats include pollution, persecution, habitat loss, harvesting for turtle soup and, as mentioned, road death – intentional or otherwise.
If you do see one on the road, please consider moving it across in the direction it is heading. After ensuring your own safety, find something like a shovel or long stick to prod it on its way.
May these reptiles of prehistoric visage long patrol our wetlands. Let’s hope that snapping turtle tales, minus those that slander the beast, will always be part of our culture.
If you have any snapping turtle tales, I’d love to hear them!