Snapping Turtles

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.

July 21, 2010 | | Blogs | Environment | Notes from the Wild

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.

Related Links:

Turtle Tally at Toronto Zoo

Canadian Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Network

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!

About the Author More by Don Scallen

Don Scallen enjoys sharing his love of nature through his writing and presentations. Check out his blog "Notes from the Wild".

Comments

15 Comments

  1. Dear Don: Thank you so much for taking the time to write such diligent and informative replies to my students. They will be so excited to read them tomorrow. Your former students were very lucky to have you for a teacher.

    Laurie

    Laurie May on Jan 7, 2015 at 10:11 pm | Reply

  2. I didnt know that turtles clean the water and don`t eat living fish.
    I also didn’t know that people hurt turtles and drive over top of them. I hope your article makes people realize they should be nice to turtles.

    from Mitchell

    mitchell from orangeville on Jan 7, 2015 at 2:50 pm | Reply

    • Hi Mitchell!

      The snappers will eat some living fish – those that swim slowly or those that might be sick, but believe it or not snappers are happy with dead fish because they are easy to “catch”. Many turtles are run over every year, mostly because drivers just don’t see them. But like I told Taya, some “road bullies” decide to run them over. This is a very bad thing, because it stops you and me from enjoying the turtles. It is also bad because most of the turtles that get run over are females and females lay the eggs that hatch into baby turtles.
      I think most people do care about turtles, but we need to spread the word that they need good habitat to live in (ponds, lakes, streams, woodland) and that we need to drive carefully so we don’t run them over.
      I hope you see a snapping turtle when the spring comes Mitchelll!

      Don Scallen from Canada on Jan 7, 2015 at 5:30 pm | Reply

  3. I didn’t know people make soup out of turtles. what else do people put in the soup? Will a snapping turtle bite your toe thinking its food?
    from Matthew grade 4

    matthew on Jan 7, 2015 at 10:23 am | Reply

    • Hey Matthew!

      People have made turtle soup for hundreds of years. Sea turtles like the huge green sea turtle used to be made into turtle soup that you could buy in a store. Sea turtles are now very endangered so I hope this doesn’t happen anymore. Potatoes and vegetables might be added to the turtle soup.
      Good question about the toe biting. I have never heard of this happening. Most snapping turtles are very afraid of people and swim to the bottom of a lake if we are anywhere near. But… some snapping turtles can be tamed. They learn to swim towards people who offer them pieces of bread. One snapping turtle in Algonquin Park made friends with scientists who would feed it fish. The scientists would go out in their canoe, slap a paddle on the side of the canoe and call their snapper friend! Then they would give the big snapper a fishy treat. In situations like this, I probably wouldn’t dangle my toes in the water, but you have nothing to worry about from truly wild snappers.

      Don Scallen on Jan 7, 2015 at 3:44 pm | Reply

  4. I learned that if you are driving and you see a snapping turtle don’t run over it or kill it you just have to bring it across the road.Thanks for writing about snapping turtles.I learned a lot about snapping turtles.

    Kaelyn Brow on Jan 7, 2015 at 10:22 am | Reply

    • Hey Kaelyn!

      If you are ever driving with your parents and see a snapping turtle or any other species of turtle on the road, please ask them to stop, as long as it is safe to do so – if the road isn’t too busy. Then your mom or dad can help the turtle to cross. (You can do this when you’re older) Little turtles are easy – just pick them up and put them in the ditch on the side they were headed to. Big snapping turtles must be handled carefully though – I used to pick them up by their long tails. I’ve learned this can hurt them, so now I don’t do it. If you can get the snapper to snap onto a stick, he can be pulled across. Some people coax them onto a blanket and then pull the blanket. Other people might use a shovel to try to lift them across.
      But your mom or dad (or you when you’re older) must always put safety first and look out for traffic.

      Don Scallen on Jan 7, 2015 at 3:35 pm | Reply

  5. I learned that the Snapping Turtle’s are not dangerous if you don’t harm them. Like running over them on the road, hurting them, etc. Have you ever seen a real Snapping Turtle in your life? I don’t think I have! I can’t wait to read more of your articles!

    Grade 4. From:
    Taya Williamson

    Taya Williamson on Jan 7, 2015 at 10:21 am | Reply

    • Hi Taya!

      One of the saddest stories I ever heard was about a scientist who put fake (plastic) snapping turtles at the side of a busy road. Then the scientist hid behind some bushes and watched. She found that about 1 out of 10 drivers would intentionally drive over to the side of the road to run over the “snapper”. This proved that some people (bullies of the road) will gladly kill snapping turtles if they get a chance. (they do this with snakes too!) Why is this sad? Because they hurt totally innocent animals and because they make it less likely that kids like you will ever see one. I think this is mean.
      I’ve seen many snapping turtles especially when I’ve been kayaking. I truly hope you get to see one soon!

      Don Scallen on Jan 7, 2015 at 3:26 pm | Reply

  6. I did not know that there is turtle soup. How do you make soup with turtles? I don’t think I would like to eat turtle soup. It would taste gross! Thanks for writing about Snapping Turtles. I learned a lot of things.

    From Kaya Grade 4

    kaylaconroy on Jan 7, 2015 at 10:18 am | Reply

    • Hi Kaya,

      Yes believe it or not some people do capture snapping turtles and make soup out of them. They remove the shell and boil the meat in water. I’d never eat snapping turtle soup either – I just love them too much. But, if there were lots and lots of snapping turtles I might not have a problem with other people doing this. (After all, most of us, unless we’re vegetarians, eat all sorts of animals) The problem with eating snapping turtles now, is that there is no longer “lots and lots” of them. We need to let them live.

      Don Scallen on Jan 7, 2015 at 3:17 pm | Reply

  7. I learned that snapping turtles aren’t violent creatures they are peaceful until they are threatened.

    From,Harrison Grade 4

    Harrison Douglas from orangeville on Jan 7, 2015 at 10:17 am | Reply

    • Hi Harrison!

      If you met a snapper she would be afraid of you. In water she would swim away. If she was on land to lay eggs she would try to pull herself into her shell. But she would have a problem doing that because her bottom shell (called a “plastron”) is too small to protect her. She would get very scared and try to bite if you got really close. She would never chase after you. So, if you ever meet a snapping turtle on the land (and I hope you do someday!) have a really good look and take a picture if you have a camera. As long as you keep a metre or so away you’ll be very safe.

      Don Scallen on Jan 7, 2015 at 3:10 pm | Reply

  8. Snapping Turtles are like the maid of the ocean because they eat all of the dead fish and dying fish. I learned this from your article. I really enjoyed it. I cant wait to read more of your posts. from Aiden Grade 4

    aiden long from orangeville on Jan 7, 2015 at 10:16 am | Reply

    • Hi Aiden!

      Yes it is true that snapping turtles clean up the ponds and lakes where they live. As you know, fish and other animals eventually die. Snapping turtles eat them and keep the water clean. So, even though we don’t like to see animals die, the snapping turtles benefit when they do – this is part of the cycle of nature.

      I hope you see a big snapper one day – they live at Island Lake!

      Don Scallen on Jan 7, 2015 at 3:04 pm | Reply

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